Crosby's comeback beats expectations


PITTSBURGH -- One flick of the wrist. One guttural scream. One very simple message to the rest of an NHL that is equal parts welcoming and wary.

Sidney Crosby is back.

The superstar center and former league Most Valuable Player capped his return from concussion-like symptoms with two goals and two assists in his season debut as the Pittsburgh Penguins roared by the New York Islanders 5-0 on Monday.

Unleashing more than 10 months of frustration in 16 energetic minutes, Crosby put to rest all the questions that had popped up during his lengthy comeback.

Can he still skate? Can he take a hit? Can he play at his nearly peerless level? Can he mix it up? The answer -- for the first night anyway -- was an emphatic yes.

"I don't really have good words for it," coach Dan Bylsma said. "That was special in a lot of ways."

For no one more than Crosby, who celebrated his first goal in 328 days in decidedly un-Crosbylike fashion.

After a breathless sprint down the ice in which he weaved through the New York defense and beat rookie Anders Nilsson with a backhand, Crosby raised his arms in triumph and let out a roar punctuated by a hard-to-miss profanity.

He laughed while watching himself on replay and later apologized for his poor choice of words while admitting, "I couldn't hold that in."

Finishing off a backcheck, Crosby streaked up the ice, took a pass from Pascal Dupuis as he crossed the center line and went to work. He worked the puck to his backhand, slipped past New York's Andrew MacDonald and flipped the puck over Nilsson's glove.

"I saw for a few seconds they were a little flat-footed," Crosby said. "I was able to get some good speed built up when I got it. I knew I had a chance to go wide."

Crosby added assists on goals by Evgeni Malkin and Brooks Orpik, and capped his comeback with a second tally, a backhand that fluttered by Nilsson early in the third period to provide the final margin.

Steve Sullivan also scored for the Penguins, and Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 29 shots to collect his 21st career shutout, one behind franchise leader Tom Barrasso.

Nilsson, making just his second start of the season, made 31 saves for New York but was no match as the Penguins roared to life with their captain back.

An electric Consol Energy Center crowd greeted Crosby with a deafening roar when he skated onto the ice during warmups.

Fans held placards with "Sid' on them -- a directive from Hall of Famer and team owner Mario Lemieux -- while others brought homemade homages to "Sid the Kid," including one that read "Merry Sid-Mas."

Crosby's return gave a late-November game between a perennial contender and an overmatched also-ran a playoff-like feel, and not just because more than 250 press credentials were handed out, four times the usual number.

Throughout his achingly slow rehab, the 24-year-old stressed he wouldn't return until he felt 100 percent and stressed it would be nearly impossible to top Lemieux's successful return from retirement in 2000, when he notched an assist on his first shift, then later added a goal and another helper.

Amazingly, Crosby one-upped his boss.

 

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