Sidney Crosby proved why he's the best player in the world with a magnificent hat trick against the Ottawa Senators on Friday in what is the high point of an astonishing season for the Pittsburgh Penguins captain.
Led by a vintage Crosby performance, the Penguins have earned a 2-0 second-round advantage over the Senators as the series shifts north of the border for Sunday's Game 3.
Crosby was able to start the lockout-shortened year fully healthy after missing over 100 games over the last two years because of injuries, and he made up for lost time by having one of the best seasons of his career.
The Kid led the league in scoring for most of the year until a broken jaw ended his regular season with 11 games left to play on the schedule. As he has multiple times in the past, Crosby worked hard to recover from a serious injury and returned to the ice as if he never left.
With its best player back in the lineup and playing at a high level, Pittsburgh is hoping to reach the Stanley Cup final for the first time since the team won its third championship in 2008-09.
Let's look at a complete timeline of Crosby's spectacular 2013 season (as of May 17).
Jan. 25: Crosby Has First Multi-Goal Game in Loss to Winnipeg Jets
Crosby's first multi-goal game of the season came in Winnipeg during a 4-2 loss to the Jets. Pittsburgh was given a 2-0 first-period lead thanks to a spectacular scoring display from its captain, but Winnipeg scored four unanswered goals to earn a confidence-boosting victory in front of the home fans.
March 10: Playmaking Brilliance Lifts Penguins over Islanders
Crosby set a season high with five assists against the New York Islanders on March 10 in a 6-1 victory. It was the fifth five-point game of his career and the second time he recorded five assists in one game.
This performance gave Crosby 75 points in 41 career games versus the Islanders, which is his highest total against any opponent.
Crosby would extend that point total to 84 after Pittsburgh defeated the Islanders in the first round of the playoffs in six games (more on that below).
March 30: Crosby Breaks Jaw, Misses Rest of Regular Season
The low point for Crosby's season was March 30, when a deflected Brooks Orpik shot from the point hit the Penguins center in the face, resulting in a broken jaw and a lot of dental work.
Given his history of head and neck injuries over the last two seasons, there was some concern that Crosby would miss a considerable amount of time.
Pittsburgh Penguins @penguins
#Pens Crosby on the broken jaw, "I didn't see the puck at all. Felt it. Kind of a weird bounce. It's gotten better and I feel better."2013-4-8 16:05:27
Crosby's total of regular-season games missed because of upper-body injuries since the start of the 2010-11 season rose to 113 due to his broken jaw.
April 1: Crosby Named NHL's First Star for Month of March
March was a dominant month for the Penguins and Crosby. Pittsburgh went 15-0 to become the first team to go undefeated in a single month (with at least 10 games played), bringing them to within two wins of the NHL record for consecutive victories, which, incidentally, the 1992-93 Penguins own.
Crosby was named the first star of the month with a league-leading 19 assists and 25 points. The Penguins superstar tallied at least one point in 12 of the team's 15 games and was almost impossible to shut down whenever he stepped onto the ice.
May 3-11: Crosby Returns to the Ice, Dominates vs. Islanders in Round 1
After missing 11 regular-season games and Game 1 of the Penguins' first-round series versus the Islanders, Crosby returned to the lineup for Game 2 and scored two goals in a 4-3 loss. To protect his jaw from another injury, No. 87 wore a special helmet (h/t Dana Heinze):
Dana Heinze @RealDanaHeinze
#87 Crosby Helmet. http://t.co/sliZTprV0o2013-5-3 21:09:36
In the crucial Game 5 of the series, Crosby scored one of the best goals of his career to help Pittsburgh earn an important win and a 3-2 series advantage:
Pittsburgh Penguins @penguins
This is sick: Sidney Crosby's goal from last night alongside Mario Lemieux's goal against the North Stars: http://t.co/k4Sk95gPK7 #dirty2013-5-10 13:23:03
The Penguins would go on to win the series in Game 6 with a 4-3 overtime victory at the Nassau Coliseum.
May 9: Crosby Selected as Ted Lindsay Award Finalist
Crosby was named as a finalist for the Ted Lindsay Award last week, which is given annually to the most outstanding player in the league. Due to the fact that it's an NHLPA award, the players are responsible for the voting.
The Penguins star should win the award unanimously, since he led the NHL in scoring by a considerable margin with 56 points (15 goals, 41 assists) when he suffered a broken jaw on March 30. When the regular season ended on April 28, Crosby was only four points behind Art Ross Trophy winner Martin St. Louis of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Crosby was one or two levels above his competition all season, and this was pretty obvious to anyone who watched him play on a daily basis. Even though he only played in 36 regular-season games, Crosby still built one of the most impressive resumes for the Ted Lindsay Award that we have seen in some time:
- T-3rd in points with 55
- 2nd in assists with 41
- 17 multi-point games
- Led Penguins in time on ice (21:06)
May 10: Crosby Selected as Hart Trophy Finalist
Despite missing a quarter of the regular season, Crosby was selected as a finalist for the Hart Trophy, which is awarded annually to the player judged to be the most valuable to his team. The other finalists are New York Islanders star forward John Tavares and Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin.
Even though Crosby was fantastic during the regular season and would have easily won the scoring title if he played all 48 games, he wasn't the most valuable player in the league. The Penguins went 8-4 without their captain in the lineup to finish the regular season and still scored 3.67 goals per game.
Crosby won the award in the 2006-07 season when he tallied a career-high 120 points (36 goals, 84 assists). If he wins, he will become the second Penguins player to win the Hart Trophy more than once (Mario Lemieux won three times, 1987-88, 1992-93 and 1995-96).
Even if No. 87 does not win the Hart, he will still have one MVP award on his 2013 resume:
Pittsburgh Penguins @penguins
The Penguins Most Valuable Player Award goes to Sidney Crosby! Congratulations Sid!2013-4-24 00:04:46
May 14: Crosby Selected as Finalist for Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy
The Masterton Trophy is given annually to the player who shows exceptional perseverance, dedication to the game and sportsmanship.
Crosby has a strong case for this award because after missing 101 regular-season games over the last two years, he came into the shortened 2013 season healthy and completely dominated the league with 56 points in just 36 games. When he broke his jaw on March 30, Crosby recovered in time to join his team for Game 2 of the first round against the Islanders. He finished the series with nine points in five games.
The Penguins captain's perseverance through several injuries to not only make a return to the ice, but also play at a level far above his competition, has been truly impressive.
May 17: Crosby Makes Team History with Hat Trick in Round 2 vs. Senators
Sidney Crosby dominated the Ottawa Senators in Game 2 of his team's second-round series with a hat trick just 21 minutes into the contest. ESPN's John Buccigross provided an interesting stat involving No. 87 and the greatest Penguins player ever:
Bucci Mane @Buccigross
Sidney Crosby is just the 2nd player to record multiple playoff hat tricks as a Pittsburgh Penguin. Mario Lemieux had 32013-5-18 01:22:23
His first goal of the game helped him reach the century mark for career postseason points, which also moved him into a tie with former Penguins star Ron Francis for fourth place on the team's all-time playoff scoring list.
Crosby finished the night with three points, and now sits four points behind Kevin Stevens for third place on the Penguins all-time postseason scoring list. It took both Francis and Stevens over 95 games to reach 100 playoff points, but Crosby has reached this level in just 75 games (via ESPN Stats and Info), which makes his accomplishment even more special.
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
5 quickest players to 100 postseason pts (via @EliasSports) Gretzky 46 games Lemieux 50 Kurri 67 Bossy 74 Sidney Crosby 752013-5-17 23:55:03
Nicholas Goss is an NHL lead writer at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter. Nick was a credentialed reporter at the 2011 Stanley Cup final and 2012 NHL playoffs, and he is also a credentialed writer at the 2013 NHL playoffs in Boston.