The idea that Sidney Crosby
was going to need some time to shake off the rust from not playing in eight days because of a knee injury and the All-Star Break was clearly dismissed Wednesday night in Pittsburgh's 6-2 defeat of the New York Rangers
A knee injury suffered Jan. 14 had Crosby less than 100 percent leading into the All-Star Break -- even though he played in two of the next three games -- and Crosby skipped the on-ice portion of the All-Star festivities in Montreal.
He returned to the ice Monday for practice, practiced again Tuesday, and then felt good enough after Wednesday's morning skate to play Wednesday night.
Despite telling reporters he was only "80 percent" healthy, he had a goal and three assists, including setting up Kris Letang
's game-winning goal at 6:18 of the third period. While Crosby drew the attention in the Rangers' zone, he was able to slip a pass to Letang.
"(Crosby) had three guys around him and they left me alone," Letang told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "I had a good chance to take my time and pick my spot."
All four of Crosby's points came in Pittsburgh's five-goal third-period outburst, which started with Jordan Staal
's goal that broke a 1-1 tie. After setting up Letang, he had the primary assist on Petr Sykora
's power-play goal at 10:01 of the third, then helped Letang score his second of the game, at 16:21 of the third.
"We did a great job in the third," Crosby said. "Staalsy started it off, that was big for us. We wanted to make sure that we started the period well early and we got the next goal. Staalsy started all that and we built off it from there."
Crosby iced the game, scoring on a beautiful backhander from the left circle that beat Henrik Lundqvist
to the far side, over this glove with exactly 100 seconds remaining.
"I just tried to turn and fire it," Crosby said. "I thought it might surprise him a little bit."
The win moved the Penguins into a tie for eighth in the Eastern Conference with the Florida Panthers
Crosby knows how important it is for the Penguins to get back on track, particularly after a long layoff like the All-Star break.
"It was really important (to get a good start)," he said. "We had a long layoff, longer than most teams, and we were playing a team that had one game under their belt already, so we had to make sure we didn't hurt ourselves. It took us the first 10 minutes to get our feet under us, but from there on I thought we did a pretty good job."
Penguins coach Michel Therrien
agrees with Crosby and notes that the playoff race is heating up. He can feel the renewed enthusiasm of his players.
"We understand the purpose of the playoff push that we're facing all together," Therrien said. "The guys are very excited. It's a good way to start."
The Penguins next hit the road for three games, traveling to New Jersey, Toronto and Montreal, then return home for a four-game homestand, which includes a Stanley Cup Final re-match with the Detroit Red Wings
(12:30 p.m. ET, NBC, RDS).
"The next game becomes the most important one for us," Crosby said. "It's going to be like that all the way down the stretch here. We did a good job here tonight, but it just gets tougher."
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