Sidney Crosby mulled the query. Could he fathom already being 13 seasons into his N.H.L. career?
“Hard to believe,” said Crosby, the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 30-year-old captain, who scored his 400th goal in February and recorded career assist No. 700 on March 21. “I don’t know where the time goes.”
Crosby joined the league the same year as Washington’s scoring machine, Alex Ovechkin, and the Rangers’ franchise goaltender, Henrik Lundqvist. The overriding difference between Crosby and his fellow star rookies in 2005-06 is his collection of championship trophies. Crosby, the No. 1 pick in 2005, has led Pittsburgh to three Stanley Cups, including the past two. The chance to play for a third straight championship is not something Crosby wanted to even consider during games in March and April.
“I try not to think about it because it’s so far away,” he said before a recent game at Madison Square Garden. “There’s just so much you have to go through.”
The last N.H.L. team to capture more than two Stanley Cups in a row was the Islanders, who won four consecutive titles from 1980 to 1983. Edmonton twice won two straight in the 1980’s, and the Penguins, captained by Mario Lemieux, won in 1991 and 1992.
The last team to win back-to-back titles was the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and ’98. When the Red Wings were going for three in a row, they lost in the second round of the playoffs.
The Penguins have thrived in a salary-cap era that seeks league wide parity. They have played 213 regular-season and playoff games in their past two championship seasons, the most by an N.H.L. team in a two-year span.
Entering Saturday’s game against Montreal, the Penguins are on a roll in this calendar year, going 25-10-3.With one week left in the regular season, Pittsburgh sits in second place in the Metropolitan Division.
Crosby, who has 28 goals and 57 assists, sees a benefit in peaking in the weeks leading up to the postseason.
“We weren’t even in the playoff picture earlier this season; it was more about that than any thoughts of a three-peat,” said Crosby, who missed the playoffs in only his rookie year. “It’s good that we’ve been fighting to get in, not just coasting.”
The Penguins continue to incorporate young talent. In the past two Cup-winning seasons, they benefited from the emergence of the versatile forwards Conor Sheary, Bryan Rust and Jake Guentzel; defenseman Brian Dumoulin; and goalie Matt Murray, 23, a two-time champion.
But they did not settle for the roster they started the season with. Pittsburgh traded for center Riley Sheahan from Detroit in October and acquired Derick Brassard at the deadline in February to be the third-line center, a luxury few teams are able to accomplish.
“They achieved that and never messed with the integrity of their roster,” the NBC Sports analyst Pierre McGuire said. “That was smart. Plus they have young players who have improved, and that speaks to coaching and development and work habits. The Penguins have veteran presence, development presence and youthful presence.”
“It’s a really good core here, guys who want to win and push each other,” he said. “Every day they come to the rink trying to get better.”