PENS VS. PREDS

Crosby, Malkin re­spon­si­ble for Pens’ drive to brink of his­tory

Cape Breton Post - - Front Page - BY JONAS SIEGEL

An in­trigu­ing Stan­ley Cup fi­nal opens play in Pitts­burgh tonight.

Above all else, the Pitts­burgh Pen­guins are in the Stan­ley Cup fi­nal chas­ing his­tory be­cause of two long­time or­ga­ni­za­tional pil­lars: Sid­ney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

Crosby and Malkin helped the Pen­guins climb from the depths of the NHL to the pur­suit of a third ti­tle in the last nine years and, po­ten­tially, the first re­peat win in the salary cap era.

“They’re both spe­cial,” Pen­guins winger Phil Kessel said. “If you watch them out there, they do some pretty spe­cial things.”

Good for­tune is largely why both ended up in Steel­town.

The Pen­guins were the NHL’s worst team in the 2003-04 sea­son, but it was the Cap­i­tals who drew the first pick and opted for Alex Ovechkin. That left Malkin there for the tak­ing at No. 2. A year later, ev­ery team in the league had a shot at the No. 1 pick fol­low­ing the 2004-05 lock­out, but the Pens – one of four teams with the max­i­mum three lottery balls – emerged as the win­ner of the Crosby sweep­stakes.

A fran­chise was changed – and per­haps saved – as a re­sult.

Crosby and Malkin have al­ready won two Cups for the Pen­guins and rank as two of the most pro­lific post-sea­son per­form­ers in NHL his­tory. Crosby is tied for ninth all-time with 1.11 points per-game, trailed closely by Malkin in 15th at 1.07.

“They just do what­ever it takes to win,” said Justin Schultz, struck by the prac­tice habits and com­pet­i­tive­ness of the duo when he joined the Pen­guins last sea­son.

The Pen­guins be­gin the Stan­ley Cup fi­nal on home ice tonight at 9 p.m. At­lantic.

Crosby said he was mo­ti­vated more by the op­por­tu­nity to win than any his­tory at stake. Get­ting back wasn’t easy – the Pen­guins won two se­ries in seven games – and he wanted to take ad­van­tage. Pitts­burgh also lost his and Malkin’s first trip to the fi­nal in 2008 and after win­ning in 2009, needed another seven years just to get back once more.

“We wanted to get back here and we knew that it was go­ing to be dif­fi­cult and there’d be a lot of ob­sta­cles and we found a way to get here now so it’s up to us to do some­thing with the op­por­tu­nity,” Crosby said.

The Cole Har­bour, N.S., na­tive can join one-time men­tor Mario Lemieux, Steve Yz­er­man and Wayne Gret­zky as the only play­ers to cap­tain back-to-back Cup win­ners in the last 30 years. He could eclipse even Mario with a third Cup (Lemieux has added two as an owner) and add to an al­ready sto­ried legacy, which in­cludes a Conn Smythe Tro­phy.

Crosby and Malkin have al­ready made an dent as the first team in the cap era to reach the fi­nal four times. They man­aged to get back this spring de­spite los­ing their best de­fence­man, Kris Le­tang, for the sea­son and top goalie, Matt Murray, for the bet­ter part of the first two rounds.

The two are de­scribed by team­mates as un­der­stated lead­ers who drive the group mostly by ex­am­ple.

Both play­ers have had shred­ded foes again in the post­sea­son, ranked 1-2 in scor­ing – Malkin with 24 points, Crosby with 20.

CP PHOTO

Cen­tre Sid­ney Crosby, left, and Evgeni Malkin lead the Pitts­burgh Pen­guins into tonight’s Game 1 of the Stan­ley Cup Fi­nal.

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