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NHL Final Round Standouts: Penguins' Sidney Crosby, Sharks' Joel Ward

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

You know, in sports, it's often the personalities we remember. And let's zoom in on two players in the NHL Stanley Cup finals that are going on right now between the San Jose Sharks and the Pittsburgh Penguins. I invited sports writer Hemal Jhaveri into our studios. She's with USA Today's sports blog, "For The Win."

And I asked her first about Sidney Crosby. He plays for Pittsburgh - full disclosure, my team. Crosby has these boyish looks. He's known as Sid the Kid. He's beloved by some hockey fans and reviled by so many others. Jhaveri says whatever you think, Crosby is driven to win. And she points to a moment in these finals when Crosby spent an entire practice working on just one play.

HEMAL JHAVERI: And he's running this play over and over and over and over again in practice.

GREENE: And now fast-forward to sudden-death overtime in game two.

JHAVERI: Sidney Crosby calls the play where he says, you know, I'm taking the puck. I'm going to win the face-off. And then Kris Letang is going to pass it to Conor Sheary and Conor Sheary is going to score.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: And Letang has it - waits and gave it on over to Sheary. It's up. He scores.

(APPLAUSE)

JHAVERI: And that's...

GREENE: And it happened.

JHAVERI: That's exactly how it happened.

GREENE: And Pittsburgh wins on that play.

JHAVERI: Yes.

GREENE: And a lot of people compared that to - I mean, they said it was like Sidney Crosby's Babe Ruth moment, when Babe Ruth held up his hand and basically told the world I'm going to hit a home run here.

JHAVERI: Yeah. And so when you see stuff like that, if he's not playing on your team, I think it's really easy to hate Sidney Crosby.

GREENE: Now, Sidney Crosby's opponents are the San Jose Sharks. And they're known for their core of veterans, most hunting for the first ever Stanley Cup championship. And among them is Joel Ward. He scored the tying goal the other night in a game the Sharks had to win.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Letang, and then that cut away. And right back come the Sharks. They've got a three on two - brought back - score, Ward.

(APPLAUSE)

GREENE: Ward is a team leader. He's also one of a small number of black players in the NHL. And he told us in an interview last year, he thinks that's changing.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

JOEL WARD: When I go back home to Toronto and see all the rinks and the kids filled up with all different races and ethnicities, it's unbelievable. It's come a long way, for sure.

GREENE: Now, Jhaveri says Ward's high profile in these finals is important, not just for the San Jose Sharks but for hockey.

JHAVERI: He has a reputation for coming up big in playoffs. You can't discount how important the visuals of something like that are because it's not Sidney Crosby scoring a goal. It's Joel Ward, who wears 42 to honor Jackie Robinson. Like, this is somebody who is very aware of the moment that he occupies in hockey history because it's not an anonymous Sharks player. It's a young, African-American kid - or even somebody like me who is a minority - looking and saying, hey, maybe this is an avenue that's open to me that might not have been there before. So I think Joel Ward is just a huge representation of where hockey is going. We still have a long way to go. But the NHL, I think, is working to make it more of a reality.

GREENE: Hamel Jhaveri is the hockey writer for the USA Today sports blog For The Win. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.