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Sid shines in return as Pens blank Isles

by Alan Robinson
PITTSBURGH -- Sidney Crosby, much like the superstar who preceded him in Pittsburgh, showed off a flair for the dramatic in a comeback game that was everything that anyone could have expected.
Even Crosby himself.
Crosby did it all in his first game in more than 10 months, scoring on his first shot since January, adding another goal and setting up two more scores during a four-point night in which he again displayed the dazzling all-around game that appears to have lost nothing during his prolonged absence.
The final score Monday was Penguins 5, Islanders 0 but, in effect, Pittsburgh's 13th consecutive victory at home against its division rival was all but over as soon as Crosby buried a backhander under the crossbar after taking Pascal Dupuis' pass in full stride only 5:24 in the game.
Crosby could be forgiven for being more expressive and emotional than usual after scoring his first goal since Dec. 28, skating to the corner and letting out a loud scream. It was his first game since he was sidelined Jan. 6 with a concussion, but it looked as if he hadn't been away at all.
"As the game went on, I felt better and better," Crosby said. "On the goal, I just tried to get up in the play and Duper pushed the puck over and I was able to get some speed, able to get a good shot away."
The standing-room crowd of 18,571 at Consol Energy Center serenaded their long-sidelined star with a chorus of "Crosby, Crosby" as they waved thousands of hand-held signs that read simply, "Sid." They cheered and stomped and celebrated the moment they long anticipated, one that was worth all the weeks of months of anxious waiting as Crosby patiently healed.
"The atmosphere was very electric," goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. "It was just loud and fun. Sid had a goal early on, so you couldn't have written it any better."


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So much for the speculation that it might take Crosby, for all of his competitiveness,  a few games, a few nights or a few weeks to regain his game legs and get back his usual speed after being sidelined for half of one season and a quarter of another.
Crosby was dominant, brilliant, and extraordinary during an unforgettable performance that perhaps lacked the dramatics of Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux's dazzling comeback game on Dec. 27, 2000, following a 44-month retirement, but was every bit as memorable.
"That was a great moment and now, for me, I'll have a great memory of this one," said Crosby, who watched that game on TV.
Especially of how his fans welcomed him back.
"It was amazing," Crosby said. "It was far beyond anything I expected. It was amazing, it was special."
And how is this for a flair for the dramatic? The final score, 5-0, was the same as it was when Lemieux had a goal and two assists against the Maple Leafs nearly 11 years ago in a game that no one in Pittsburgh ever expected him to play again.
Penguins and NHL fans were certain Crosby would play again. The only question was when, and how well he would play when he did.
How about this?  His line score: 15 minutes, 54 seconds played, or about six minutes less than his average last season. A whopping eight shots, two of which went in. Fourteen of 21 faceoffs won. A plus-3 rating.
And a couple of hits accepted with no problem, including a shot by Travis Hamonic along the rear boards that dropped Crosby to the ice, although he quickly got back up.
"I was mad at myself for putting myself in that position; standing up straight I was an easy target," Crosby said. "I'm glad I got that one over with early. It gives you some reassurance. I don't think I needed it, but it's always good in the process to get that out of the way early."
Hamonic knew who he was hitting, too.
"I thought it was just an opportunity to be hard on someone and, you know, that's all it was," he said. "It was just a hit."
Lemieux, Crosby's one-time teammate and landlord and now his boss as the Penguins co-owner, must have loved it all as he watched from a luxury suite. So did his coach.
"There were a lot of things special about the evening, just how dynamic he was," Dan Bylsma said. "It was a pleasure to be behind the bench and watch it."
Crosby was the fastest skater on the ice from the start, one who was a threat to score whenever he was on the ice and, most certainly, whenever the puck was within his reach. Or just like he was playing when he had 32 goals and 66 points in 41 games last season, giving him a 10-point lead in the scoring race before he was hurt.
"I knew he was going to back to 100 percent on the ice, where he left off last year," Pens defenseman Kris Letang said. "And that's what he did. He took his rehab seriously, and the team did too. They gave him time, and he came back great."
Crosby, playing for the first time since he absorbed on Jan. 5 a second hard hit in as many games, had two points by the end of the first period – setting up defenseman Brooks Orpik's one-timer from the point 16:29 into a period that couldn't have gone much better.
Islanders rookie goalie Anders Nilsson, making his first NHL start under unusually difficult conditions given the emotion and the energy generated by Crosby's comeback, didn't have a chance on either goal.
"They got Crosby back and you can see how good he is, how much he helps Pittsburgh," Nilsson said. "I've seen him before (on TV), but you get to see how good he is in real life."
The early lead allowed Bylsma to give Crosby a couple of four-minute breaks between shifts, and the rest proved beneficial.
Crosby came flying off the bench and, skating hard toward the net following the second extended break, was turned aside by Nilsson on a power-play shot early in the second. But Crosby gathered the rebound and steered it to Letang at the point, where he set up Evgeni Malkin near the left post for Malkin's 10th goal.
Crosby wasn't done, even if he didn't figure in Steve Sullivan's second goal of the season, at 5:53 of the second, as Malkin picked up his second point of night.
Early in the third period, Crosby scored his second goal of a night that those in attendance won't soon forget. Following a faceoff win, Crosby carried the puck from behind the net to along the right-wing boards before unleashing a nasty backhander that deflected off defenseman Steve Staios and into the net.
Right about then, the noise level inside Consol resembled a hard rock concert with the amps all turned up to 11.
"I don't think I could ever be surprised by the man, because I expect the unexpected," forward Matt Cooke said.

It was his first game of the season, but Crosby already has set the bar extraordinarily high for a repeat performance to match this.
"We made it little easy for him sometimes," Islanders center Frans Nielsen said. "He had a lot of time with the puck and a guy like him, he's going to make plays."
Overlooked amid Crosby's magical night was Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury's second shutout of the season, his fourth against the Islanders and the 21st of his career. He stopped 29 shots.
Dupuis had a three-point night, and defenseman Zbynek Michalek picked up an assist in his return after sitting out 10 games with a broken finger. The Penguins also won their sixth in a row at home, and their 13th in a row there against the Islanders.

The Islanders, coming off a 6-0 loss to Boston on Saturday, arguably were just as bad against the Penguins, who already are 3-0 against them.
"There's a lot of season left to be played and the last two games were unacceptable, and so was losing," Islanders center John Tavares said. "We've got to try to stay together and move forward."
But this night, this performance, this remarkable return belonged to Crosby. And there are 60 games remaining in a season that started much later than Crosby ever wanted but couldn't have begun much better.
"I feel like I've been waiting forever to play," Crosby said. "Obviously, I'm very excited."  
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