Respect for Crosby a must as he reaches milestone

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Sidney Crosby participated in his 500th NHL game last night, a long-awaited and long-delayed milestone in the career of the Pittsburgh Penguins captain.

All of us, Flyers fans especially, should tip our caps to that achievement. Have we forgotten the Greek tragedy of Eric Lindros so soon and how the story didn't end well, in Philadelphia and points beyond?

Had all gone according to plan, the 26-year-old from Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia would have hit the mark some time late in the 2011-12 season, and you can bet it probably would have occurred against their most bitter cross-state rival.

In reality, the next notch in the belt of a potential Hall of Fame career came during a 5-1 decision over the San Jose Sharks at CONSOL Energy Center, and it was enough to give the young man pause.

"Looking back I probably think about how many I've missed more than playing 500," Crosby said prior to Thursday's contest. "But it's been great. It's gone by quick, that's for sure. But to get to 500 is definitely a nice number."

Entering the weekend, where the Pens sat atop the Metropolitan Division with a 20-9-1 record, Crosby has racked up 706 points (253 goals, 453 assists), including 41 points in 30 games this season.

It all could have gone so wrong after the chain of events beginning with an elbow to the side of the head from Washington's David Steckel at Heinz Field on Jan. 1, 2011.

Crosby could have succumbed to the vagaries of post-concussion syndrome, made worse by checks of lesser severity from Tampa Bay's Victor Hedman and the Bruins' David Krejci along with taking a puck to the face by teammate Brooks Orpik last season.

He hit the proverbial wall in game No. 412, missing a total of 113 regular- season games and seven playoff contests, which could have been more if not for last year's lockout, before embarking on this year's stellar run.

Crosby's sixth, and seventh, and then eighth NHL campaigns were marred by the rehabilitation process, false starts, and cautiousness which mirrored the travails of his mentor and franchise icon, Mario Lemieux.

All was golden for Super Mario through his sixth season, back in 1989-90. Through 427 games, he'd compiled 838 points (345G, 493A), and with that a 46- game point streak which vaulted him to the top of the scoring list that year.

What followed was a debilitating back injury which required life-saving surgery, a diagnosis of non-Hodgkins lymphoma, and a recurrence of back issues due to the wear and tear of the NHL schedule that precipitated an entire season (1994-95) on the sidelines to recover.

Lemieux didn't reach a level of stability and total health until 1995-96, when he returned with a vengeance by roasting the opposition to the tune of league- highs in goals (69), assists (92) and points (161).

While Crosby isn't on that kind of searing pace, he is far and away leading the league in points and shows no signs of stopping -- though that one hit which could ruin it all again still lurks somewhere.

That doesn't take away these telling stats: he ranks sixth on the all-time list for most points at the 500-game mark. Only Wayne Gretzky, Lemieux, Peter Stastny, Mike Bossy and Jari Kurri racked up more in that span. Plus, that three-assist performance was his fifth in a milestone contest. That's right. He's celebrated his 100th, 200th, 300th, 400th and now 500th games with multi- point efforts.

The best part is, none of his experiences over the last three years or the shadow of what Lemieux had to endure, has dimmed his enthusiasm.

"The biggest thing for me is the passion that I've always had for hockey," Crosby told the Post-Gazette. "It's not skills or talent or any of that stuff. It's the passion. When that's at its highest, that's when my game is at its best. That work ethic, all the things that come with having that passion, that's the most important part."

For now, he can finally worry less about passing the ImPACT test and concentrate more on making an impact as a leader for a team trying to spend an entire 82-game slate erasing the memory of a four-game sweep in the Eastern Conference Finals to the Bruins.

Besides, after entering the NHL at age 18, he might not have many years left to perform at his absolute peak.

"He's getting old in the league now," quipped Penguins coach Dan Bylsma. "He's getting upward in age."

As luck and fate would have it, Game No. 501 on what many hope to be a clearer path to 1,000 takes place on Saturday in Boston.