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Crosby hopes to return; Penguins confident either way

by Chris Adamski /

PITTSBURGH -- Sidney Crosby is anxious and eager for Tuesday. And not just because the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin in the NHL that day.

Sidney Crosby
Sidney Crosby
Center - PIT
GOALS: 15 | ASST: 41 | PTS: 56
SOG: 124 | +/-: 26

Crosby has an appointment with his physicians to evaluate the status of the healing in the jaw that was broken during a game March 30. Crosby, like the rest of the Pittsburgh Penguins organization, is hopeful he will be given clearance to return to game play as part of this meeting.

But unlike a hockey game -- something Crosby has a direct effect on -- the NHL MVP candidate is doing his best to temper any expectations he has for his checkup from the doctor.

"I try not to have any," Crosby said. "Just going for an appointment. I don't have any control over it, so there's no point of getting too worked up about it.

"I don't know exactly what [needs to check out], but I'm sure they'll take a peek and see how everything's healing."

Officially through coach Dan Bylsma, the Penguins say there is no change in Crosby's status as Game 1 of their first-round playoff series against the New York Islanders looms Wednesday night (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN).

Crosby went through what was a spirited, high-tempo full practice with teammates Monday at a suburban rink. He often skated into high-traffic areas, and by every indication was going full-speed. Crosby was, however, with likely scratches Dustin Jeffrey and Joe Vitale on a fifth line for line rushes.

As Crosby has for all his skates and since returning to practice late last week, he was wearing a clear plastic shield for his lower face and jaw. He likely will be required to continue wearing the extra equipment when he returns to game action.

"It's something that you keep getting used to a bit more," Crosby said. "We all wore that at some point, be it a cage or something, and we got used to it then so I'll get used to it here. It did take a bit of adjusting, but I'm sure it will be OK when I get out there."

When Crosby returns, the Penguins will have their full complement of forwards available for the first time since Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow and Jussi Jokinen were acquired during an 11-day span leading up to the NHL Trade Deadline.

Vitale returned to a full practice after being out a week because of a lower-body injury. Defenseman Brooks Orpik, who also has a lower-body injury, was the only Penguins player who did not practice. Orpik did skate on his own prior to the workout.

Crosby is in his sixth season as Penguins captain, was leading the NHL scoring race by a wide margin when he was struck by a puck in the mouth in a game against the Islanders on March 30, and is considered a Hart Trophy frontrunner.

The Penguins certainly will welcome him back. They won't, however, dwell on awaiting his return.

"That absolutely says a lot about our team and where our mindset's at and what we believe in," Bylsma said. "We all would want Sidney Crosby in our lineup in every possible situation and in every game we play. That hasn't always been the case -- we've played without Sidney, we've played without [reigning NHL MVP Evgeni Malkin], we've played without other players in our lineup, and our team has continued to have the right focus and the right way to play and win hockey games.

"And they've done that a lot of different ways. We're going to be excited about getting Sidney Crosby back in our lineup and adding to our team, but our players always know that when he's not on the ice, they know how to play and know how to win hockey games."

The Penguins went 9-4-0 (counting the game he left after one shift) while Crosby sat out because of the broken jaw through the stretch drive of the regular season. They are confident they can continue to win without Crosby, if need be, in the postseason.

"Hopefully it doesn't have to happen, but I think we've proven in a number of situations, no matter who's out, that we're capable of playing good hockey and beating good teams," Crosby said. "[His status] is not something I think anybody's too worried about."

In addition to being successful without Crosby, the Penguins were 15-2-0 when Malkin was out with upper-body injuries this season and 6-2-0 when sniper James Neal was missing time because of a concussion.

For many games, they were without two or more of the above, and/or also missing Norris Trophy candidate Kris Letang and/or 25-minute-per-game defenseman Paul Martin. For a 3-1 win at the playoff-desperate Ottawa Senators on April 22, they were without all five of those players and starting goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.

For better or worse, Pittsburgh has grown accustomed to winning without its top players. It also has gotten used to being without Crosby, who was limited to 22 games over two calendar years from January 2011 until the start of this season.

Perhaps that's why Crosby's teammates, while eager for his return, aren't spending too much time yearning for it.

"Throughout the years, this team's battled through a lot of crazy injuries to the top guys," Neal said. "For us, we just need to keep playing our game; you can't change anything or worry about anything. I think we do a good job of that, and at the same time it gives a chance for guys to step up, and you definitely saw that when Sid, Geno, [Letang] and myself weren't in the lineup.

"That's a good thing about our club -- we just need to stay positive here. We know Sid's on his way back to playing, so we just need to keep going."

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