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Team Canada

Sidney Crosby reasserts himself as game's best

Dominant performance at World Cup has Team Canada one win from championship

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

TORONTO -- Forward Sidney Crosby is dominant again. He wasn't 17 months ago, when he needed to find a way to get that winning feeling back.

Crosby was genuinely miserable after the Pittsburgh Penguins' five-game series dud against the New York Rangers in the 2015 Eastern Conference First Round. That came less than 12 months after the Penguins blew a 3-1 series lead and lost to the Rangers in the second round. Crosby also was jolted by a coaching change that led to a style change in Pittsburgh. 

So he decided to play for Canada at the 2015 IIHF World Championship in Prague, because he always wins when he plays for Canada. Everything changed there. Crosby hasn't stopped winning since.

Crosby has won gold at the World Championship, the Stanley Cup and the Conn Smythe Trophy in the 17 months since the Penguins lost to the Rangers for the second straight spring, and is one victory away from leading Team Canada to the championship in the World Cup of Hockey 2016 championship.

Team Canada can win the World Cup by defeating Team Europe in the second game of the best-of-3 final at Air Canada Centre on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; ESPN2, CBC, TVA, TVA Sports).

Video: EUR@CAN: Mic'd up Crosby strategizes during Game 1

Crosby leads the tournament with nine points in five games. He had two assists in Team Canada's 3-1 victory in the first game of the final Tuesday.

"It's frustrating when you lose and to be able to go to that tournament [World Championship], play some great hockey, be part of a great group of guys and win at the end, I think it kind of changed the feeling or the mood about the finish to the season," Crosby said. "It was nice to build off of that. You want that experience. … I think that experience probably helped me."

Crosby still had to overcome a bad start to last season, but he has looked like a player on another level from everybody else since Mike Sullivan took over as Pittsburgh's coach on Dec. 12.

He had 66 points in his final 52 games of last season. He had 19 points (six goals, 13 assists) in 24 games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He has three goals and six assists here, leading the best line in the tournament with Brad Marchand (4-3-7) and Patrice Bergeron (3-3-6) as his wings.

They are the top three scorers in the tournament.

In the eyes of many, Crosby has reasserted himself as the best player in the world.

"When you're an elite player, Mark Messier and Mario Lemieux and Gordie Howe, you're given this sort of God-given talent, and Sidney was given this gift, but that's not what makes a great hockey player," Wayne Gretzky said. "What makes a great hockey player is his imagination, his creativity and his work ethic. If you watch Sidney Crosby play, like Mark Messier and like Bobby Orr, he's the hardest-working guy on the ice. When you're the best player and the most talented player, and you're the hardest-working guy on the ice, you're pretty tough to beat. Consequently, all the praises and accolades he's getting he deserves, because he works hard."

Video: EUR@CAN, Gm1: Bergeron pads the lead on Crosby's dish

Team Canada defenseman Drew Doughty, who also played with Crosby in the previous two Olympics, said he has never seen Crosby play better for Canada than he is at the World Cup.

"He's playing unbelievable," Doughty said. "Things are working for him now. He's hot. Not that he didn't play well at the other tournaments, he just didn't get this hot."

Maybe that's why there is such a glaring difference in perception between how Crosby played at the 2014 Sochi Olympics and here.

Crosby had three points on a goal and two assists in six games in Sochi. Canada still won gold with him as the captain, but there were daily questions about scoring and why Crosby in particular couldn't produce despite dominating possession in every game.

In contrast to that, Crosby had a goal and two assists in his first 15 shifts in the World Cup. It took him 27:22 of game time to match his Sochi production.

"He got feeling it early, and he's feeling it, and he thinks it's going in," Team Canada coach Mike Babcock said. "When you don't get feeling it, sometimes for stretches, you might press a little bit harder. You always have more time in the scoring area than you think. When you're scoring, you take the time. When you're not scoring, you rush and you don't score."

A patient and effective Crosby had that feeling in the playoffs last season, especially in the Penguins' championship-clinching 3-1 win in Game 6 of Stanley Cup Final, when he had two assists and was generally dominant all game.

Video: RUS@CAN: Crosby steals the puck and scores

Even though that bled into a celebratory offseason, the fact Crosby's summer was short, less than three months in fact, actually helped him get that feeling back in short order for the World Cup.

"It was a quick summer, but I think having played that late and in those type of games in the playoffs, it kind of helped transition to this type of hockey," Crosby said. "I mean, it's intense and every detail is magnified, much like the playoffs. I would say it helped, definitely."

The Penguins benefited last spring. Team Canada is benefiting now. The Penguins likely will benefit again starting next month.

Crosby went through a pair of playoff debacles against the Rangers and a coaching change in a span of less than 12 months before he decided to go play for Canada in the World Championship. He has done nothing but win since. One more victory gets him another championship. He's starting to make everyone else jealous.

"There's really not much more that can be said about the player he is," Team Canada forward Steven Stamkos said. "The guys in our room feel he's the best player in the world and we're glad he's on our team."

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