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Stanley Cup Final

Crosby motivated by desire to return to previous level

Tuesday, 11.22.2011 / 4:41 PM / NHL Insider

By Alan Robinson - NHL.com Correspondent

PITTSBURGH -- On the day after his awe-inspiring return to the NHL, Sidney Crosby found himself involved in a friendly practice day argument over a stack of magazines.
 
Don't think Sid the Kid isn't Sid the Competitor, too?
 
Barely 12 hours removed from a beyond-dazzling comeback that provided an adrenaline rush-like jolt of excitement around the League, Crosby lost the Penguins' end-of-practice shootout drill on Tuesday.

Or so coach Dan Bylsma ruled. Crosby argued that James Neal shot out of turn and that he deserved another shot. Crosby didn't get it, despite his argument to the contrary.
 
Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury's take on the matter: You lost, now pay up.
 
Yes, even shelling out a few bucks to supply magazines for the team plane and players' lounge -- the Penguins refer to the shootout loser as Magazine Boy -- is enough to bring out the can't-stand-to-lose drive in Sidney Crosby.
 

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Or the same kind of motivation that drives him to play at a level that should land him on the cover of a few of the magazines he'll end up purchasing.
 
How good was Crosby in the game he has waited since January to play, all because of the concussion that sidelined him for 41 games last season and the first 20 games this season?
 
So good that even some of his newer teammates couldn't quite believe what they were seeing as Crosby scored twice during a four-point night that powered the Penguins to a 5-0 victory over the New York Islanders on Monday night.
 
Crosby played at such an astonishingly high level during his nearly 16 minutes on the ice -- he easily could have picked up another couple of points -- that Kings goalie Jonathan Quick tweeted, "How long before Crosby is leading the league in points?
 
Here was a player who hadn't been in a game in 320 days performing as if he hadn't missed a shift all season -- a total-package combination of fast-as-a-blur speed, exceptional stickhandling  and an uncanny ability to read a play even before it developed.
 
His shooting skills were there, especially the backhander he used to score his first two goals since Dec. 28. His acceleration was there. His reaction time was there. It was all there.
 
"All my buddies and friends and family were almost in disbelief," Penguins forward Steve Sullivan said. "It was that big of a moment. It's been such a huge story for so long."
 
There were no headaches, either.
 
Crosby acknowledged being a bit tired after his first full game since Jan. 1, but said there were no other physical problems. He hasn't reported any concussion-related issues for several months and, now that he has been cleared to play again, he plans to see his concussion specialists only on an as-needed basis.
 
After a performance that left even Bylsma shaking his head in wonderment, Crosby almost couldn't keep up with all the welcome-back text messages from fellow NHL players.
 
"That was pretty amazing," Crosby said, invoking a word that was used countless times to describe his memorable Monday. "I didn't really expect a lot of those throughout the League to text me. I was kind of caught off guard by that. There was a ton of support and I certainly appreciate it.
 
Of course, a game this good leads to the question: Can he keep it up?
 
At the time he was hurt last season, Crosby was scoring at the fastest rate of any NHL player in a couple of decades, with 32 goals and 66 points in 41 games. In December alone, he had 14 goals in 13 games.
 
Only a couple of days ago, his teammates agreed it might take him a few games, maybe a few weeks -- who knows, maybe all season? -- to get back to playing at so high a level. Now they're not so sure.
 
"I remember last year right before he got hurt, we went into games expecting him to get two goals," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "You probably shouldn't expect that but we kind of were. He was playing that well. And it wasn't just offensively, it was his whole game. It was pretty complete at that point. (Now) it's one game, and it's tough to expect four points every night, but hopefully he keeps building on that."
 
As Crosby intends on doing.
 
"You look for ways to be motivated," Crosby said. "Sometimes they just kind of happen. For me, after going through this, I want to get back to where I was last season. … (But) I know it's going to take time."
 
And what about all that chatter that, with 60 games remaining, he could challenge for the scoring title he seemed destined to win last season before getting hurt?
 
"I don't think that's possible," said Crosby, who had a 10-point lead in the scoring race before developing the concussion. "It would be great, but that's not even something that's on my radar, to be honest with you."
 
For comparison's sake, League leader Phil Kessel of Toronto went into Tuesday's games with 29 points, or 25 more than Crosby. With such a deficit facing him, Crosby would almost have to duplicate Mario Lemieux's 2000-01 post-comeback scoring rate -- 76 points in 43 games -- to have a chance.
 
What does motivate Crosby is being part of a Stanley Cup-caliber team, which the Penguins appear to have.
 
Except for two midseason games last year, this is the first time since the end of the 2009-10 season that the Penguins have had an intact lineup; Crosby and Jordan Staal each missed half a season to injuries in 2010-11 and Evgeni Malkin sat out the final two months and the playoffs.
 
While Crosby said there is much to do for the Penguins to become a best-of-the-best team, he agreed that "the opportunity is there."
 
"We have a lot of depth," he said. "That's a big part of winning. … We'll see how things go but, on paper, yes, we have a great team."
 
Having Crosby back should make the Penguins even better. But he won't get much time to rest following his exceptional comeback game; the Penguins play three games in four nights starting Wednesday at home against St. Louis. Next week, they go on a three-game road trip.
 
Crosby knows it could be much, much harder to pile up so many points against the Blues, the Canadiens and the Capitals.
 
"I'm not sure they (the Penguins) are going to make it look as easy as they did last night," Bylsma said. "That was a pretty high level from No. 87 and a lot of guys followed along. At times it kind of looked easy."
 
Still, Crosby -- when he is on his game -- is capable of making it look just this easy against anyone.
 
"I'll have a great memory of this one for a lot of reasons," Crosby said. "That was a pretty fun one to be part of."

Once again, it shows character in this dressing room. Once again, there's no quitting in here. We all wanted this so bad and we worked so hard to get home-ice advantage and we weren't going to let this one slide.

— Colorado Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog on his team's OT Game 1 win vs. Minnesota Wild