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Sidney Crosby, Penguins all too familiar with concussions

Pittsburgh center won't change trademark physical style, despite injury history

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist

PITTSBURGH -- This is good news, of course. Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby skated in full gear with two teammates Thursday after attending the Penguins' 3-2 win against the Washington Capitals in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Second Round on Wednesday.

But this is a concussion recovery, the first step of a step-by-step process, and information is limited. We don't know when Crosby will return, let alone that he will against the Capitals. The Penguins lead the best-of-7 series 3-1 with Game 5 at Verizon Center on Saturday (7:15 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVA Sports).

This is still the time to be cautious. Crosby has had multiple concussions, and a big part of what makes him great exposes him to the risk of more concussions: his speed, the way he drives to the net, the way he battles below the goal line.

 

[RELATED: Complete Penguins vs. Capitals series coverage]

 

"I can confirm that Sid did skate this morning and that he's in the process of rehabbing," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "We'll just leave it at that. It's a day-to-day process, and we're taking each day as it comes."

Crosby, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy when the Penguins won the Stanley Cup last year and is a finalist for the Hart Trophy this season, left 5:24 into Game 3 on Monday. He drove to the net on a 2-on-1, Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin knocked him off balance and Washington defenseman Matt Niskanen cross-checked him in the head.

Sullivan said Crosby would be evaluated overnight; the coach announced on Tuesday the Pittsburgh captain had a concussion.

The only way we know Crosby attended Game 4 on Wednesday is the Penguins posted a short video of their postgame celebration on their Twitter feed; it shows Crosby dressed in a suit and standing by the stick rack congratulating teammate Patric Hornqvist, who was returning to the locker room.

The Penguins were off Thursday. They put up extra black curtains and barred reporters from their practice rink in suburban Cranberry, Pennsylvania, but Crosby was visible through cracks in the curtain going through drills in full gear with teammates Carl Hagelin and Conor Sheary, according to dkpittsburghsports.com. Crosby did not speak to reporters. Sullivan did not say much.

"I'm not going to elaborate on the process he's going through," Sullivan said. "We really rely on our medical staff in that regard. These guys advise us, and they're very good at what they do, and so he is in the process right now and will continue to be, and it will be a day-to-day evaluation."

Video: WSH@PIT, Gm3: Crosby exits with injury early in 1st

The good thing is Crosby has been through this before. He knows his body. He knows the drill.

He tangled with a teammate in practice Oct. 7; woke with a headache and sat out the Penguins' final preseason game Oct. 8; participated in a fan fest Oct. 9 and missed practice Oct. 10, when he was tested and doctors diagnosed a concussion.

Crosby felt well enough to skate the next day and almost every day afterward. But he didn't come back until Oct. 25, after he had missed six regular-season games and had gone four or five days without symptoms. He knows the nature of the injury, that symptoms can pop up later, and the need to be patient.

That must be the same general approach now, even though the Penguins are in the middle of the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a chance to repeat.

The bad thing is Crosby has been through this before, of course. He missed large chunks of the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons because of concussions.

Look at how he plays. He's constantly taking contact and initiating contact in dangerous spots.

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Look at how he got hurt. Whatever you think of what Ovechkin and Niskanen did on that play, Crosby was crashing the net hard.

"I think what separates Sid from most other players is his ability and his willingness to play in the battle areas," Sullivan said. "He has a blue-collar element to his game, even though he's an elite player. I think that's what allows him to have the success that he's had.

"I've said on a number of occasions this year: I think he might be the best player in the world at generating offense from below the goal line and creating separation and making that next play or taking the puck to the net himself. He fills the net on the power play and 5-on-5 from close proximity to the net. He has the stick skills, the ability to protect the puck and make plays in traffic that most players can't make."

Crosby has to do this right because it's right for his long-term health. He has to do this right because he can't play the way he does unless he's confident he can take another hit without taking additional risk. When doctors clear him, he can play. Then it's about his comfort level.

In the meantime, all we can do is wait.

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