SAN JOSE, Calif. — Sidney Crosby has filled about the only hole left on his impressive resume.
Sid the Kid won his first Conn Smythe trophy as playoff MVP on Sunday night after leading the Pittsburgh Penguins past San Jose for their second Stanley Cup championship since he arrived 11 years ago.
“It’s special,” Crosby said. “It’s the one you play for. There were so many great individual efforts by so many guys. ... A different guy stepped up every night.”
Crosby had two assists, including the pass that set up Kris Letang’s game-winner as Pittsburgh beat the Sharks 3-1 in Game 6.
The MVP trophy joins his two Olympic gold medals for Canada 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 Crosby. After making the final in his third and fourth seasons in the NHL, winning it all in his second trip in 2009, Crosby the Penguins have experienced mostly disappointment 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. He was, as Sullivan often said, playing “the right way.”
Crosby had six goals, 13 assists and three game-winning goals in the Eastern Conference Final against Tampa Bay. But the MVP award signifies much more than that, and the Penguins controlled the play almost every time he was on the ice. Crosby helped neutralize the opponent’s top players, added clutch scoring and led his team by example, even if others were ahead of him on the stats sheet.
“Sid’s a great leader. It really gets overlooked,” said Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford, who surrounded Crosby with some new talent this season. “Everybody looks at how many points he gets, but the fact of the matter is he’s become an all-around player. He deserves the Conn Smythe and he’s become one of the great leaders of the league.”
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.
Crosby then immediately handed the Cup to teammate Trevor Daley, who missed the entire Stanley Cup after breaking his ankle in the conference final.
“He’s a great player but he’s an even better person,” Daley said. “There’s not much more you can say about that guy. He’s a special guy.”