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Roy MagGregor

Sid's first Add to ...

rmacgregor@globeandmail.com

He finished hurt, but he finished what he set out to do. What some would even say he had to do.

This morning, the scraggly playoff beard will mercifully go. It's time to show equal mercy to the nickname.

Sid the Kid no longer makes much sense.

He is only 21, but Sidney Crosby, as of the lifting of the 2009 Stanley Cup following his Pittsburgh Penguins' 2-1 victory over the defending champion Detroit Red Wings, is no longer much of a "kid." He stands, instead, as the best North American, by far, in the National Hockey League and Canada's only sensible choice to lead the country back to the gold medal as captain of the Olympic team.

He is not only a player of enormous top-speed skill but one of those rare players who has no need of that number, 87, to be recognized on the ice. When not forced to conceal an injury - he was hurt last night by a second-period check from Detroit's Johan Franzen - he moves about the rink, as nearby Windsor poet Marty Gervais once wrote, "as swift/ and keen and graceful/ as a hawk above/ a morning meadow."

"I don't recommend anyone trying to watch the Stanley Cup final from the bench," Crosby said after his left knee was hurt.

Two years in a row Crosby has led his young teammates to the Stanley Cup final. In his fourth year in the league, he made it all the way. It took Wayne Gretzky five seasons to reach his first Cup.

"That's how I want to be measured," the native of Cole Harbour, N.S., said. "The Stanley Cup. That's how you measure everyone."

If Detroit can fairly be called a "dynasty" of sorts for its four Cups since 1997, then it is fair to suggest that a new reign, or semi-reign, may be under way with the Penguins. With Crosby and lesser stars bound to long-term contracts, Pittsburgh is likely to compete seriously for some time to come.

Sidney Crosby, after all, could still be a half dozen years away from what is usually a superior player's peak. Same goes for Evgeni Malkin, Crosby's 22-year-old Russian teammate, the NHL's regular-season scoring leader, the leading playoff scorer, and one of the three finalists for the Hart Trophy that goes to the league's most valuable player.

Detroit coach Mike Babcock was quoting his general manager, Ken Holland, the other day when he said Holland's "big theory is you knock on the door, you knock on the door, you knock on the door every year and eventually they open the door."

That door opened wide last night thanks to Maxime Talbot's two goals and a breathtaking night by Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-André Fleury. While it must bother Crosby that for possibly the first time in his life he has not been his team's top scorer, there is no indication that Malkin is anything but content to play second fiddle and "A" to the younger Crosby's "C."

All Malkin wanted, he said this week, was to have an equivalent photograph taken to that one back in Pittsburgh's Mellon Arena that shows Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr holding up the 1992 Stanley Cup.

"It's my dream," Malkin said in his halting English. "Me and Sid, just like that."

Malkin and Crosby were brilliant in Pittsburgh's conference final against Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals, a series so highly skilled and dramatic that, in many ways, it is unfortunate that it could not be a final, something that cannot happen under the current east-west division of the league.

That is not, however, to diminish the Red Wings. Thanks to the merciless checking of Henrik Zetterberg, Crosby had been held to just two assists in five Stanley Cup games at the Joe Louis Arena this year and last when the puck dropped.

He should have had another during Pittsburgh's first power play, when he set up Malkin at the side of the net, only to have the puck bounce badly. He never had another chance, leaving after the Franzen check and returning in the third only to sit, grimacing, at the end of the bench.

When healthy, however, he has the gift and it is obvious in every game he plays, score or not. "I wonder about it," the poet Gervais asked, "where they found/ that inherent/ skill that natural/ beauty that way/ about them as they/ float before a goalie/ with all the confidence/ of a magician playing/ out a sleight of hand."

No one knows where it comes from, just that few have it and a great many do not.

But Crosby - speaking so quietly every day this spring from the cover of a frayed Penguins cap - has also demonstrated that, at only 21, he has inherited that curious quiet mantle that is the mark of the truly great Canadian players.

Jean Beliveau and Gordie Howe passed it on to Bobby Orr, and from Orr to Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux.

There have not been many, but it seems only appropriate that Crosby be next in line, taking it from Lemieux, the last captain to take Canada to Olympic gold, the owner of the Penguins and still Sidney Crosby's landlord.

It's time for the beard to go, time to move out.

And time to leave behind Sid the Kid. It no longer applies.

MacGregor 3

Follow on Twitter: @RoyMacG

 

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