An eventful night for Sidney Crosby, who was brilliant for Penguins

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PITTSBURGH — Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final wasn’t even a minute old when Sidney Crosby put his stamp on it.

In a flash, Crosby took a pass and split the Nashville defense. He forced Ryan Ellis to take a holding penalty, got past him anyway, then whipped a shot off the post. No goal there, but the Penguins would score moments later on the resulting power play. They’d go on to hammer the Predators, 6-0.

It was a masterful performance by the Penguins captain, who finished with three assists and literally rubbed P.K. Subban’s face in it. Pittsburgh can win the Cup Sunday in Music City. If not there, then Game 7 will be Wednesday back at PPG Paints Arena.

“We had a great start,” said Crosby. “Wanted to make sure that we played on our toes. Obviously, getting a few goals helps, and then we followed up in the second. That’s how we need to play.”

They sure didn’t play that way in the first four games, even though they won the first two. Game 5 was by far their best performance of the series. It was a dominant victory.

Oddly enough, Game 4 might’ve been their second best, even though they lost it by three goals.

“There was a lot to like about that game,” said head coach Mike Sullivan. “We felt as though there was a lot to like about that game. I think sometimes people can get fooled by the scores of games, but we don’t. We understand it. And I think we try to keep an objective assessment of our games.”

“I think we turned the page,” added Crosby. “Looking at (Game 4), we felt like we still generated some good chances. We felt if we did a few things differently and buried those chances, we’d give ourselves a chance to win.”

Oh, and for the record, Crosby didn’t intentionally throw that water bottle.

“I made a gesture and it came flying out of my hands,” he explained. “I didn’t try to throw it. I know it ends up on the ice, but I wouldn’t start throwing water bottles at this point. I remember being surprised when it came out of my hands and thinking, ‘Great.’ But I have a better arm than that.”

It was a nasty Game 5, in an increasingly nasty series. Near the end of the first period, Crosby got mixed up behind the net with Subban. The two stars went to the ice and skirmished for a few seconds. They each received two minutes for holding.

What happened during that skirmish depends on who you asked.

“He lost his stick, and he was doing some sort of UFC move on my foot,” said Crosby. “I don’t know what he was trying to do. I was trying to get out of there. He had lost his stick and was just trying to hold me down. I was in some sort of lock there. I don’t know what it was.”

Predators head coach Peter Laviolette saw things rather differently.

“I don’t understand it,” he said. “I don’t understand the call. I saw my guy get his head cross-checked in the ice ten times. I don’t even know what he did, P.K. I’m not sure. I disagree with the call.”

Alas, neither Crosby nor Subban bit when asked if things had gotten personal between the two. They may have diametrically different personalities — one shunning the attention, the other craving it — but each chose diplomacy over escalation.

“Everyone’s out there trying to compete,” said Crosby. “He’s trying to do his job and I’m trying to do mine.”

“It’s just hockey,” said Subban. “It’s just hockey.”

And so we head back to Nashville, where you know it’s going to be nuts. On Sunday, the Penguins can become the first repeat champs of the salary-cap era. Or, the home team will win again and the Stanley Cup Final will have its first Game 7 since 2011.

As for Game 5, it may well be remembered as the game that Crosby won on his very first shift.

“I just think what separates him is his drive,” said Sullivan. “I don’t know that I’ve been around an athlete, not just a hockey player but an athlete, that is as driven as Sid is.”

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.