– In a raw assessment after Wednesday’s overtime loss to Pittsburgh, San Jose center Logan Couture said the reason Sidney Crosby is so good in the faceoff circle is because he “cheats.”

Couture said Crosby, who won 71 percent of his faceoffs and the key draw that led to Conor Sheary’s winning goal in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final, isn’t kicked out of the circle by linesmen “probably because of who he is.”

Days later, Couture smiled as reporters surrounded his stall leading into Saturday’s Game 3. “All centers do it,” he said of cheating. “[Anze] Kopitar does it. [Jeff] Carter does it. Everyone does it. I do it. Some guys get away with it. Some guys, the ref will stop it. That’s what happens on faceoffs.”

Matt Cullen, Crosby’s Penguins teammate, said there isn’t an NHL center that “doesn’t try to get a little bit of an edge. I kind of laugh at this whole thing.”

Crosby has worked hard in the circle. A poor drawman early in his career, he ranked 23rd among regular centermen during the regular season and ranks 15th in the playoffs. Good, but not exactly elite.

Cullen said in the playoffs, linesmen usually give all centers the benefit of the doubt late in games.

“If a guy gets kicked out, generally it usually happens early in the game,” he said. “There is a little bit of an adjustment to each linesman. Every linesman is a tiny bit different as far as how quick they drop it, if they make you pause and then drop it or if they allow a little timing for the second guy.”

In the offensive and defensive zones, the defending center must put his stick on the ice first. Each center is supposed to have his feet within the markings, his shoulder square and his blade on the ice.

Crosby doesn’t always have his shoulders square or his feet exactly in the markings as he tries to get a quick jump on his opponent.

He rolled his eyes of the minor controversy: “I have one good game in the circle, and all of a sudden I’m cheating on faceoffs,” he said.

Said Cullen: “Nobody is ever happy when they lose a draw. Anytime you do, you feel they let the other guy cheat.”

And Couture has since acknowledged, “The refs have let us play, they’ve let us take a lot of draws, there haven’t been many guys get kicked out. So you just try to get in there and do your best.”

Pens’ 3rd line has edge

Pittsburgh’s “HBK Line” of Phil Kessel, Nick Bonino and Carl Hagelin entered Game 3 having combined for 19 goals, 31 assists and 50 points in 20 games this postseason.

“We’ve seen it all year, that third line has been their better line,” San Jose defenseman Paul Martin said. “You shut down Sid, you shut down Geno [Malkin] and then you’ve got Phil and a little more depth on that third line than you do on the other two. It creates a problem for most teams.”

Cheering a Spuds hero

Hearing from his parents, brothers, and wife and three kids who are spending the week in Minnesota, Cullen, 39, senses the love he’s receiving from Minnesota hockey fans as he strives for his second Stanley Cup.

“It’s easy to get caught up in everything going on, but I’m trying to stay focused on everything here,” said the Moorhead High School ­product. “I just want to soak up every minute of it.”

Out and in

Sharks forward Tomas Hertl missed Game 3 because of an undisclosed injury. He was checked hard in Game 2 by Patric Hornqvist.

“He’s arguably been maybe our best player through the first two games,” San Jose coach Pete DeBoer said.

Dainius Zubrus, scratched in Game 2 for Matt Nieto, returned.