The Pittsburgh Penguins have seen one too many cheap shots to their 19-year-old superstar, and they want the NHL to know about it.
Sidney Crosby had scored two third-period goals, helping to lead the Penguins to a 5-2 win over the New York Islanders, when New York winger Jason Blake decided to send a message. With 33 seconds left in the game, Blake put the blade of his stick into Crosby’s lower abdomen, spearing him against the boards.
Crosby crumpled to the ice for a couple of seconds, then got up looking for the offender. He came at Blake, grabbed the neck of his jersey and angrily shoved him away.
“When I went up to him it seemed like he kind of backed off, and I think he was trying to sneak out of it and hope that no one really saw,” said Crosby. “I was standing up straight, it wasn’t like I was ready to take a hit or anything, so it kind of catches you off guard. I really didn’t know at the time who did it. I felt the stick and I went down, then I looked up and he was the closest guy.”
Penguins defenseman Ryan Whitney skated in to have words with Blake, and the incident ended with Crosby taking a two-minute penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. Blake’s initial infraction went unpunished.
Just a few minutes later, after the game, Crosby was ready to let it drop. “I wasn’t too happy there, but it’s good to get the win,” he said. “That stuff happens, but it’s better to forget about it and move on.”
Crosby’s coach, however, was not in such a forgiving mood. Michel Therrien said that the spear was just the latest in a series of illegal tactics Crosby’s opponents have been using against him, and the Penguins planned to submit a tape to the league office for disciplinary action against Blake.
“The spearing at the end of the game was unacceptable,” said Therrien. “We’re really upset to see a cheap shot, and on top of it we’re the ones who got penalized. I hope the NHL makes the right call, because we’re not going to accept (opponents) trying to hurt our best player.”
Therrien drew a distinction between hard, physical play and the infractions against Crosby. “We want to play hard, that’s part of the game, but we’re not going to accept those kinds of cheap shots,” he said. “Lately we could start to see it; there were some cheap shots in our last game in Philly, there were some cheap shots again tonight, but that’s enough. We’re not accepting this.”
The NHL has made strides in attempting to protect its stars since Crosby’s landlord, Mario Lemieux, was fined in 1992 for calling it a “garage league” that allowed dirty play to go unpenalized. Injuries and illness caused Lemieux to miss more than 400 games over the course of his 17-season career, limiting his opportunity to challenge the records of other greats such as Wayne Gretzky.
Still, the league’s best players will always be targeted, a fact with which Crosby said he has come to terms.
“It’s done, it’s over and we’ve got a lot more important things to worry about than that,” said Crosby, whose team ended the night just three points removed from a playoff spot. “I’m not going to sit here and vouch for a suspension, that’s totally up to (the league).”
“To sit here and try to complain about anything, I’m not going to do that because I’ve accepted that it’s going to happen sometimes,” he continued. “You don’t like to see it but it happens, and as a player you deal with it and just worry about playing.”
Crosby, the league’s leading scorer, and Blake, the Islander’s leading scorer, will be teammates on the Eastern Conference squad at the NHL All-Star Game next week. Then it will be back to business as usual, and emotions are sure to run high next time the Penguins and Islanders – just one point apart in the conference standings – meet up.
“I think the whole team has a little rivalry going on with those guys. They’re a division rival, we’re right in the standings with them, so each game means so much,” said Whitney. “(Blake) might’ve given Sid a stick there in the midsection, but overall they’re good games every time, and the rest of the way they’re going to be big games against them, too.”