CRANBERRY, Pa. — Sidney Crosby doesn’t want to let another chance at the Stanley Cup slip away.
“I think you try to cherish every opportunity and make the most of it,” the Pittsburgh Penguins captain said Wednesday. “Regardless of what the situation is, you just have to take advantage of the opportunities when you get them. We have one. So we’re looking to do something with it.”
Crosby has won the Stanley Cup three times (2009, 2016, 2017), but the Penguins have not advanced past the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2017. Pittsburgh will finish the season as the No. 1 seed in the Mass Mutual East Division after winning a division title for the first time since 2013-14 and will face the No. 4 seed New York Islanders in the Stanley Cup First Round.
After a scrimmage Wednesday, Crosby was one of the last two skaters on the ice. The 33-year-old center led the Penguins with 62 points (24 goals, 38 assists) in 54 games this season.
“I think Sid elevates his own game at this time of the year,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “That’s just been my experience coaching him for the last six years. I know how excited he gets to play this time of year. He wants to win in the worst way. I think when he comes to the rink, he exudes that. Just the way he carries himself, the way he interacts with his teammates, both on the ice and off the ice. And I think our players recognize it. Certainly, our coaching staff does.
“I think that’s what makes him the leader that he is. When the stakes get high, he’s at his very best. The expectation is everyone is going to elevate their game to give this team the best chance to be successful.”
Defenseman Kris Letang and center Evgeni Malkin are among the leadership group for the Penguins and were part of the three championships during Crosby’s tenure. However, Pittsburgh has lost nine of its past 10 playoff games and Crosby said he realizes the three may not have many more opportunities remaining.
“We don’t really talk about it,” Crosby said. “I think it’s enough when you have to prepare and get ready to start. So we’re excited. We’ve been fortunate enough to share a lot of playoff games together, and important ones.”
The Penguins are built similarly to the teams from 2015-16 and 2016-17, which had Crosby, Malkin and Nick Bonino as the top three centers.
Forward Jeff Carter could be the third line center, filling the role of Bonino, who singed with the Nashville Predators in the 2017 offseason.
Since being acquired in a trade from the Los Angeles Kings on April 12, Carter has nine goals in 14 games, including five in his past two. He centered the second line before Malkin returned from missing 23 games with a lower-body injury on May 3 and would be third-line center if the Penguins remain healthy.
“I think [depth] is a strength of ours, for sure,” Crosby said. “You don’t have success without having depth. It becomes even more important come playoff time.”
In addition to Carter, the Penguins acquired forward Kasperi Kapanen in a trade from the Toronto Maple Leafs on Aug. 25. He scored 30 points (11 goals, 19 assists) in 40 games.
Pittsburgh acquired defensemen Mike Matheson and Cody Ceci this offseason. Matheson was acquired in a trade with the Florida Panthers on Sept. 24 for forward Patric Hornqvist; Ceci was signed to a one-year contract Oct. 17.
“We’ve got every line that can contribute,” Crosby said. “On defense, we’ve got a lot of different pairs that can go out there and do the job, both defensively and offensively. I think we’re definitely confident in that and it’s something that has been a big part of our success. So we’ll look for that to carry over into the playoffs.”
A balanced lineup helped the Penguins win six of eight games against the Islanders this season.
When they last played in the postseason in 2019, New York swept Pittsburgh in a best-of-7 Eastern Conference First Round series. The Penguins scored one goal in each of the final three games and were outscored 10-3.
Although they lost that series as well as a best-of-5 Stanley Cup Qualifier series to the Montreal Canadiens in a in four games last season, Crosby said the Penguins are ready.
“I think you’re always motivated going into the playoffs,” Crosby said. “I think to have those two experiences fresh in your mind, I think will add some motivation for guys who were a part of it.
“But it’s a new group. We’ve played some good hockey down the stretch. I think we need to bring that and add another level when the playoffs start.”