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Is Crosby the key to an exposure-hungry NHL?

TSN.ca Staff

5/23/2008 10:47:24 PM

It's common knowledge now that Sidney Crosby has spent most of his life in the national spotlight.

A short, but distinguished career of firsts have been documented for the hockey world to see.

There was his first goal in junior with the Rimouski Oceanic, his first World Junior Hockey Championship, his first game as a Pittsburgh Penguin, his first National Hockey League goal and his first playoff game.

Now, the NHL's biggest spectacle has arrived on its biggest stage for the first time.

"You play those games to win it, not just to get here," Crosby told reporters on Friday. "It's a great opportunity and all of us feel pretty fortunate to have it. It's not something that happens to often."

Sid The Kid is the centre piece for what many are calling a dream match-up for the NHL - at a time when every bit of U.S. exposure is critical and providing the opportunity to grab headlines.

"I suspect if the Penguins win the Cup and they hand it to the captain, he'll be the first (Cup-hoisting) hockey player on the cover since 2001," says SI hockey writer and TSN The Reporters panelist Michael Farber.

Red Wings forward Kris Draper - whose team was a headline-grabber in 1997 when Detroit won its first Cup in 41 years - agrees that the 2008 final could go down as a big moment. "When you look at what Pittsburgh has to offer and what the Detroit Red Wings have to offer, this is going to be a great series on paper," he said.

Crosby is no stranger to the crush of mass media and he's always seemed to handle it with relative ease. But the Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia native hasn't seen it like this before. Striking a balance between feeding the beast and playing the most important hockey of his life might be a challenge.

"In a way, I've learned to say 'no' a bit more," said Crosby. "I think that's just something that I thought was necessary and you have to manage your time sometimes."

The impact that Crosby has on the final won't be known until the series is well underway and the television ratings start coming in. But there are a couple of good positive indicators so far - there are more media credentials this spring than there were last spring and two major U.S. newspapers out of New York and Los Angeles are represented. All of them covering Crosby as he looks to win his first Stanley Cup.

How Will Crosby Fare in the Final?

If the Stanley Cup Final is hockey's greatest stage, is Sidney Crosby ready to take the lead role?  TSN's hockey experts weighed in with few doubts.

Pierre McGuire:  "I know he can handle the theatre, we've seen him do it before, especially at the world juniors in 2004. He was just 16 years old in Helsinki, Finland, and he stood up and delivered, becoming the youngest Canadian to ever score a goal in that tournament.

"Think back to 2005 in Grand Forks, North Dakota, where he played with Corey Perry and Patrice Bergeron. He was lights out, and Canada won gold.

"As a 19-year old, he won the Hart Trophy as the NHL MVP and the Art Ross Trophy as the leading point getter. He also happens to be the captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

"He saved a junior team in Rimouski.  He saved an NHL team in Pittsburgh - they're building a new arena there because of him.

"The theatre is not too big for Sidney Crosby.  He can handle it, and he'll deliver."

Bob McKenzie:  "I don't think there's any question that we've seen Sidney Crosby look very good in these playoffs, but he's going to have to be a little bit better in the Final. I think he's entirely capable of doing that.

"Crosby was outstanding against the Flyers - he did all the little things to help generate offence, and worked all three zones very effectively.  The level he went to against the Flyers was a quantum leap forward, but there's got to be another gear there, and I suspect that there is. 

"I think Crosby is also accutely aware of his environment.  He knows this is a potentially defining moment for him at an early stage in his career. He's going to give us his best effort, I think it will be even better than what we saw against Philadelphia. 

"I don't know if it will be enough to win the Cup, but I expect this will be the best of Sidney Crosby that we've seen this year."

Mike Milbury:  "Before we book Westminster Abbey for the coronation, he's got to beat a pretty good team in Detroit. He hasn't yet faced anything like the big three that the Red Wings have on defence.

"There's no question that the Jennings Trophy winners are going to get all they can handle, but it's a long way to London."

- with files from TSN's Ryan Rishaug.