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Visit from McDavid Brings Out the Best in Crosby, Penguins

After a pair of blow-out losses, the Pens reminded everyone they still have the formula that earned them back-to-back Stanley Cup Championships.

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The latest Connor McDavid-Sidney Crosby showcase was appropriately hyped, and as it turned out the hype was justified. But at its core, Oilers-Penguins was still a hockey game.

And in the end the significant development wasn’t that the Penguins won in overtime on Tuesday night, it was that they were willing to pay the price.

Justin Schultz got concussed.

Kris Letang limped off after blocking a shot.

And afterward Ian Cole talked about the elbow to the face he’d absorbed as well as scoring a  goal.

“Right up under the chin,” the Pens’ defenseman specified. “Bleedin’ a little bit, still.”

It turned out to be that kind of game.

The challenge for the Penguins coming off a 7-1 shellacking last Saturday night at Tampa and with a 10-1 no-show on Oct. 5 at Chicago on their resume was to remind everyone, themselves included, that they were still willing and able to play such a game.

McDavid and Crosby both provided the anticipated highlights.

McDavid even scored a ridiculous goal.

And Matt Murray was at times spectacular in the Penguins’ net.

But what ultimately proved decisive was the Penguins’ determination to do the little things, to do the dirty work and to play the right way as head coach Mike Sullivan defines it rather than to allow themselves to be sucked into a high-octane, high-risk game.

It wasn’t quite a playoff atmosphere at PPG Paints Arena.

It can’t be that this early in a season.

But it wasn’t too early for the Penguins to re-establish an understanding of what works in playoff-type games against playoff-caliber opponents, and an appreciation of how patience and attention to detail must be applied before allowing their star power to eventually take over.

That’s been the formula the past two seasons.

Penguins 2, Oilers 1 confirmed the Penguins are still buying into it.

“You never want to try to out-score teams in this league,” Murray maintained. “Once you get into track meets, then it’s a crapshoot and any team can beat you.

“We worry about out-playing the other team first, and the goals will come.”

Cole insisted the Penguins remain as committed to playing it that way, and to paying the shot-blocking, slot-clearing, back-checking, net-crashing price required to outlast opponents as they’ve ever been.

“Absolutely,” he said. “If you want to win consistently in this league you have to be able to do the little things, not turning pucks over and keeping tight gaps and turning pucks over for your team and transitioning quickly and all those little things that don’t necessarily show up on the scoresheet but are huge momentum-swingers to get the game going in your favor.

“And yes, playing the game the right way is cliche, but that’s certainly what you want to do.”

The latest McDavid-Crosby showcase wound up showcasing the Penguins’ willingness to do so when necessary, from their captain on down.

“I thought his defensive play was on display,” Sullivan said of Crosby. “When he goes head-to-head with a guy like McDavid, I think it brings out the best in him at both ends of the rink.”

When Crosby’s at his best, the rest of the Penguins usually are, too.

Three weeks into their quest for a three-peat, that’s still as good as it needs to be.

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