Crosby passes test in first trip to Stanley Cup finals

PITTSBURGH -- For almost two months, Sidney Crosby has trudged to a podium to talk to reporters at least once a day, twice on game days. But after the Pittsburgh Penguins were denied in their last-second bid to tie Game 6, losing 3-2 to the Detroit Red Wings, Crosby remained slumped in his dressing room stall.

That Crosby had nothing more to give, either on the ice or to reporters, speaks volumes about his performance, not just in his first Stanley Cup finals, but throughout the playoffs.

"I think he's passed virtually every test," former NHL netminder and current national broadcaster Kelly Hrudey told ESPN.com earlier this week. As for the pressure of playing in the finals, "I think he's handled that better than virtually all of his teammates. They were the ones who didn't handle it."

In time, perhaps, Crosby's first Stanley Cup finals will come into greater focus -- the fact that he finished tied for the playoffs scoring lead with Conn Smythe Trophy winner Henrik Zetterberg, both of whom had 27 points, and led a young team to within two wins of a Stanley Cup championship before his 21st birthday.

But, on this night, there was only the painful sting of losing.

"I don't think anybody likes to lose," Crosby said. "Obviously, we've come a long way, but we came here to win. So it's still tough."

In terms of level of play, one could hardly expect anything more from Crosby, whose penchant for producing at the most important times continued throughout the playoffs. In the finals series, where top players like Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal and Ryan Malone seemed to buckle under the pressure, Crosby finished with six points in six games. He added another assist Wednesday night on a power-play goal by Malkin. It was Malkin's first point of the series.

He also took a whopper hit on Wednesday from Brad Stuart seconds after he'd fallen and was just getting to his skates. The hit left Crosby hunched over in pain. Still, he was among the most dogged of forecheckers for the rest of the evening and was in on the Penguins' final, desperate bid to tie the game.

"I haven't experienced a Stanley Cup final loss before," Crosby told reporters. "It's not a good feeling."

Hrudey pointed to how Detroit captain Nicklas Lidstrom stepped forward in the Western Conference finals when the Dallas Stars won two straight games to send the series back to Dallas for Game 6. Lidstrom said his job as captain was to make sure his teammates were relaxed and focused enough to do their jobs.

Hrudey added that Pittsburgh didn't seem to have enough of an environment around the team in which they could stay loose during the finals.

"They were uptight," Hrudey said.

Still, Crosby's experience here, not just playing, but also learning from what he saw from the Detroit Red Wings, will serve him well down the road.

Mario Lemieux reached his first Stanley Cup finals, and won, in 1990-91, Super Mario's seventh NHL season.

Wayne Gretzky played in his first finals during his fourth NHL season in 1982-83, when the Oilers lost to the dynastic New York Islanders. Gretzky would lead Edmonton to the promised land the following season.

Crosby reached the final round in just his third season, and he did it after missing 28 games midway through the season with a high-ankle sprain.

One of the urban legends surrounding the 1983 Stanley Cup finals is the story of when the Oilers went by the victorious Islanders dressing room and saw more relief than celebration. The Islanders looked like they'd been through a war and the Oilers hadn't. Gretzky and Co. took that to heart and said, essentially, "That's what we have to do to win."

Will Crosby learn a similar lesson after some time to reflect on this season? Chances are, he'll get another crack at the Cup finals.

Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.