Sidney Crosby filled about the only hole left on his impressive list of career accomplishments.
Crosby’s leadership, strong two-way play and clutch scoring helped him win his first Conn Smythe trophy as playoff MVP after leading the Pittsburgh Penguins to their second title since he arrived 11 years ago. Crosby had two assists, including the pass that set up Kris Letang’s game-winner as Pittsburgh beat the San Jose Sharks 3-1 Sunday night to win the title in six games.
That trophy joins his two Olympic gold medals and two Hart Trophies, and it gives him the mythical title as best player in the world.
It’s been quite a turnaround season for the player known as Sid the Kid, who played prep hockey at Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Faribault. After making the Cup final in his third and fourth seasons in the NHL, winning it all in his second trip in 2009, Crosby and the Penguins have experienced mostly disappointments with the team making early playoff exits and Crosby missing almost an entire season and a half because of concussions.
Pittsburgh lost three first-round series, twice in the second round, and was swept by Boston in the 2013 conference finals before breaking through this season with a run that seemed improbable back in December after Crosby had just three goals and eight assists through 20 games. The Penguins were near the bottom of the standings before firing coach Mike Johnston.
The hiring of Mike Sullivan sparked Crosby, who was given more room for creativity, and that helped the team regain its form and make the playoffs. Crosby put up 31 goals and 36 assists in 52 games with Sullivan on the bench, moving from outside the top 50 in scoring to third at the end of the season.
Crosby had six goals, 13 assists and three game-winning goals in the Eastern Conference Final against Tampa Bay. But the award signifies much more than that as the Penguins controlled the play almost every time he was on the ice and Crosby helped neutralize the opponent’s top players.
Crosby’s dominance was evident throughout the final game as Pittsburgh spent most of the time when he was on the ice in San Jose’s zone. His pass from behind the net to Letang put the Penguins ahead 2-1 just 1:19 after the Sharks tied the game. Crosby then blocked a shot from Marc-Edouard Vlasic late that helped set up Patric Hornqvist’s empty-netter that sealed it.
All that was left was for Crosby to accept the Conn Smythe – and then the Stanley Cup.