For the first time since sustaining a broken jaw when a puck deflected up and struck him March 30, Crosby took part in a Penguins practice.
"It was great," teammate Brandon Sutter said. "It's been, I'm sure, a long few weeks for him, so it's nice to get him back and see a smile on his face again. It looked like he was having fun again, so hopefully he'll be back (in game action) soon."
Sidney Crosby practicing again with his Pittsburgh Penguins teammates was a much-welcomed sight Friday afternoon. (Photo: Paul Bereswill/NHLI)
That day won't come Saturday, when the Penguins close their regular season by hosting the Carolina Hurricanes. But neither Crosby nor coach Dan Bylsma would rule out the possibility of Crosby being cleared to play in time for Game 1 of the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Eastern Conference's No. 1 seed, Pittsburgh will open up at Consol Energy Center against a yet-to-be-determined opponent, almost certainly Wednesday.
Bylsma said the Penguins will have two practices between now and then. Bylsma added that he has two plans for line combinations -- one with Crosby and one without.
"There's not a timeline on Sid and his injury right now," Bylsma said. "It's good to have him in practice and a step to have him in practice in a non-contact way and have him out there with the group."
Crosby was on a "fifth line" with Beau Bennett and Dustin Jeffrey during line rushes at practice. But Crosby did see time with the top power-play unit during special teams drills.
Crosby wore a helmet with a two-part shield; in addition to his usual visor, a clear plastic piece extended over his lower face, protecting the jaw that was reportedly cracked or shattered in several places when teammate Brooks Orpik's shot was deflected up into him during Crosby's first shift of a win against the New York Islanders almost four weeks ago.
"It was nice to get out there," Crosby said. "Being out there with a couple of guys besides yourself is not the same. It's nice to be out there with the team and get a full practice in."
Although Crosby -- and his teammates -- was instructed to avoid contact, he wasn't shy about skating with speed or going into corners or up against the boards. While a practice among teammates, of course, will never be confused with a live game when it comes to contact and physicality, an observer Friday could have watched the entire hour-long workout and not known one player was off-limits when it comes to contact if they hadn't been aware of the situation.
"It's just not bumping into anyone," Crosby said. "I've got to be pretty careful out there obviously and don't want to put myself in a position where I'm going to have a setback or anything like that. I think you just try to get used to the tempo and the speed, but just try to stay out of the way."
Crosby was running away with the National Hockey League scoring race when he was injured with 56 points in 35 games before the one shift he took March 30. It wasn't until Wednesday that he was caught by Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
That marks the second time in three seasons Crosby had a wide lead in the scoring race but missed the entire remainder of the regular season because of injury. He had 66 points in 41 games in 2010-11 before concussion symptoms ended his season.
Crosby won't get a chance to make up the two points he's behind St. Louis on Saturday.
"It would be nice to get one in … but that's not going to be the case, and I have to make sure I'll get ready accordingly," Crosby said.
"I'll just keep talking with the doctors; it's not really up to me, to be honest with you. It's something they have to feel comfortable with the healing and that kind of thing. As soon as they say the word, I'll be ready to go."
That word has come for defenseman Paul Martin (broken bone in hand) and right wing James Neal (concussion). Each will return to play against Carolina after missing 12 and eight games, respectively. Both were cleared to resume practicing earlier this week.
"I didn't feel like I had any problems out there," Neal said. "Today's the best day I've felt skating wise and that's a good sign.
"Any time you miss time due to injury you want to get your feel back as quickly as possible when you start playing again. It started with a good practice today; felt good out there and just excited for tomorrow."
Also returning to full playing status this week after injury absences were Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Bennett. Defenseman Orpik and fourth-line forward Joe Vitale, however, were affected by lower-body injuries this week. Vitale skated on his own before practice, but Orpik was not in attendance.
Bylsma provided no update or prognosis on the conditions of those two, but even the unsettling situations of Orpik and Vitale were not enough to tarnish a day in which the Penguins welcomed their captain and former NHL MVP back to the ice for a practice.
"Wow, to get a boost like that going into the playoffs?" forward Jussi Jokinen said. "Obviously, hopefully we'll be getting him back into the lineup soon. And obviously, Paul Martin and James Neal, as well. So that's going to be a huge boost for our team. We're really glad to have them back."