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Return of Crosby just another challenge for Islanders

by Chris Adamski

PITTSBURGH -- You'd think the last thing the New York Islanders would want coming off a 5-0 loss to a team that has won 24 of its past 28 games is for that opponent to welcome back its leading scorer and NHL MVP candidate into the lineup.

The reaction of New York's Frans Nielsen to the Pittsburgh Penguins announcing that Sidney Crosby will play in Friday's Eastern Conference Quarterfinals Game 2? Bring it on.

"He's one of the best players in the world," Nielsen said after the morning skate Friday. "So it's a challenge -- and that's something that everyone who's involved with sports loves. It makes you more excited. It's always fun playing against the good players."

Crosby told reporters he was cleared to play, and the Penguins' official website and Twitter account announced he was returning in Game 2 to play for the first time since sustaining a broken jaw during his first shift of a game against the Islanders on March 30.

Despite missing the final 12 games of the regular season, Crosby almost won the NHL scoring title with 56 points in 36 games.

"He's one of the best players in this League, so you've got to be aware," Nielsen said. "You can't make mistakes. You've got to be good in all areas, because he's the kind of player who's going to make you pay if you make mistakes."

The Islanders know that better than anybody. Crosby's 75 points in 41 games against New York are his most against any opponent. The 20 goals he has scored are second to what he's put up against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Crosby had nine points (all assists) in, essentially, four games against New York this season (plus the one shift before he took a deflected puck to the mouth March 30).

"We've got to be ready for it; we know he's going to be excited to play," Islanders leading scorer John Tavares said. "It's been a while. Any time you come back in the lineup, especially in a playoff series, I'm sure he's going to be ready to play and wanting to bring his best. So we have to be ready. We know we have to be a lot better than we were and have to be aware of what he does out there."

This is Crosby's second high-profile comeback against the Islanders in the past 18 months. On Nov. 21, 2011, he had two goals and two assists in playing for the first time since January of that year because of his concussion issues.

"It'll be electric in the building (Friday), no question," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said.

"I have always said, when you've got an elite player like Sidney Crosby, he's going to get his chances throughout, of course. We just have to make sure we try to contain him and limit his opportunities."

Then again, with a lineup that includes Evgeni Malkin, Jarome Iginla, Chris Kunitz, Kris Letang and other highly skilled players, Crosby isn't going to be New York's sole focus.

"It's not just him; we have to focus on Malkin as well," Islanders defenseman Travis Hamonic said. "But he's a player that we have in our sights, and I think we have to be hard on him. I know personally I'll try to be hard on him when I have an opportunity."

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