Crunch time for Crosby

Sidney Crosby is healthy, back in MVP form and carrying his wounded team into the playoffs. Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports

This is the extended version of a story that appears in ESPN The Magazine's April 14 One Day One Game Issue. Subscribe today!

ON THE FIRST DAY of training camp, Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero makes his expectations clear: Anything short of a Stanley Cup will be a disappointment. "That's just what the standard is now," says defenseman Brooks Orpik. "Sid and Geno [Evgeni Malkin] are in their prime. The window for winning is only so big." The window appeared to be closing this season when Pascal Dupuis, Sidney Crosby's longtime wingman, went down with a torn ACL, defenseman Kris Letang suffered a stroke and Malkin and forward Marcel Goc were sidelined for several weeks with foot injuries. Through March 26, Pittsburgh had lost an NHL-high 447 man-games. And yet the shorthanded Penguins have marched on, battling Boston for the best record in the Eastern Conference. Once again, the quest for the Cup all comes down to Crosby, who's mounting another Hart Trophy-worthy season while taking on more responsibility on defense. But he's not getting any younger, so another early exit would be a disaster. Here six factors that figure into the Penguins' playoff push.