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All eyes are on Sid The Kid again

Dear Sidney:

Good luck tonight, Kid! Game 7, home crowd in Pittsburgh, the playoff darling Canadiens coming in to try to spoil a Penguin spring. It's another one of those moments, 87. It's all on you.

As you put it yourself, Sidney, a game like this "is a chance to see what you're made of."

You're used to it, and have been feeling this sort of weight since you were a mite the height of Hal Gill's kneecap. And lately? Well it's been the year of seeing what you're made of. Twelve months ago, Sid, you were in a playoff showdown with Washington's Alexander Ovechkin, the pretender to the title of World's Best Player. You and Ovie traded hat tricks in Game 2, a 4-3 Capitals win. "It's nice to score," you said afterward, keeping your even keel. "But it's better to win."

And win you and your once-wobbling Penguins did, beating Ovechkin's Caps in seven games. Soon after came the Stanley Cup Final, and again the pressure built. This time, down three games to one, you and the Penguins rallied to beat the Red Wings. Some folks, ever nettlesome, ever demanding, pointed out that you scored only one goal in that series, that you were pointless in the final three games. But this didn't seem to bother you much as you took the Cup in hand. As a sagacious captain, age 21, had said: "It's better to win."

Then you got your chance to bring the Cup back home to Cole Harbour on the August day that you turned 22, with a crowd of many tens of thousands there to cheer you on. And you lifted the Cup to those cheers, and you thanked the people, and then in front of everyone you strapped on some goalie equipment and played a game of street-hockey shinny with your boyhood buddies, just like back in the day. And your team won that game, too.

What a year 2009 turned out to be. A fairy tale on ice.

And then came 2010 and -- get a load of this, Sidney -- there you were leading Team Canada into the gold medal game of the Vancouver Olympics. Then it was overtime against the pesky U.S. and with the arena full of anticipation and excitement and a nervous tension that was near to unbearable, you picked up that little pass from Jarome Iginla and snapped the puck into the net, and the Olympic gold belonged to Canada, O Canada! This was bigger than the Stanley Cup. This was bigger than anything else in hockey. You scored the Golden Goal and you were Gretzky and Orr and Howe and Paul Henderson, too.

Rest some, after that? Relax a bit? Not exactly. You returned to the Penguins and finished off a 51-goal season, the first time you'd ever even scored as many as 40 in a year. Even in this there was scrutiny and weight upon you. You trailed in the league goal-scoring race on the very last day of the season, then went out and scored twice to ensure a tie for the lead.

So here you are, Sid, one month and 12 games into the 2010 NHL playoff season and under everyone's watchful eye again. Most of those many millions of Canadians who so cherished and adored you after your Olympic majesty are now rooting for you to fail. It's the Canadiens you're up against after all, a classic hockey underdog with heart and determination and one hell of a hot goalie. It is Canada's last team standing in the playoffs, trying to make it into the Conference finals for the first time in 17 years.

Now, some folks might remind you again of how, after that exceptional opening round against Ottawa, you have slipped slightly, failing to score a goal in the first five games against Montreal. Finally, in Game 6, you put one past Jaroslav Halak. "It was nice to see one go in," you said.

Yes, bet it was nice, Sidney, real nice. But you know what the wise man once said: "It's better to win."

Good luck, Kid, one more time.

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