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Sidney Crosby, Penguins must stay patient

Pittsburgh captain, who sustained concussion in Game 3 loss to Capitals, should come back only when ready

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

CRANBERRY, Pa. -- After Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan announced captain Sidney Crosby had a concussion on Tuesday, a group of 4-, 5- and 6-year-old boys and girls put on hockey equipment downstairs at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex.

Each child wore a jersey that said "LITTLE PENGUINS" on the front and "CROSBY 87" on the back, then skated on the same ice Crosby usually does for practice.

Take a step back from the emotion of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and look at the big picture. The Penguins have to handle this the right way for Crosby's long-term health and for the example he sets. There is every reason to believe they will.

Crosby left 5:24 into a 3-2 overtime loss to the Washington Capitals in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Second Round at PPG Paints Arena on Monday, after he cut to the net on a 2-on-1, got knocked off balance by Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin and took a blow to the head from Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen, a former Penguins teammate.

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

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan could have used a little gamesmanship to exploit an emotionally charged situation with the Penguins leading the best-of-7 series 2-1. He did not. He didn't say Crosby had an upper-body injury. He didn't complain that Niskanen received no supplemental discipline after his five-minute major for cross-checking and a game misconduct.

He came right out and said doctors had diagnosed a concussion and Crosby would miss Game 4 at PPG Paints Arena on Wednesday (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

"We will evaluate him day to day from there," Sullivan said.

If we've learned anything from Crosby's history with concussions, it's to keep the focus on what matters most, to be open about the injury and not to use timelines. Stay patient. Take it step by step.

"He will go through the protocols that we always put our guys through when they've been diagnosed with a concussion," Sullivan said. "You know, the nature of these things is they're all very different. Sometimes they come around quickly. Other times they don't."

We all know what the worst-case scenario is. This is Crosby's fourth concussion, at least. He missed significant chunks of the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons because of concussions. The fear then was that he never would be the same or even that he might have to retire. We don't need to go there yet.

 

[RELATED: Complete Capitals vs. Penguins series coverage]

 

The best-case scenario is probably like what happened early this season.

On Oct. 7, in his second practice after winning the World Cup of Hockey 2016 with Team Canada, Crosby got tangled with a teammate. He woke up Oct. 8 with a headache and did not play in the Penguins' final preseason game. He participated in a fan fest Oct. 9 and missed practice Oct. 10, when he underwent testing and doctors diagnosed a concussion. The Penguins announced it publicly.

Crosby felt well enough to skate on his own the next day and kept skating almost every day. But he underwent a lot of testing and didn't assume he was fine after he had one or two days without symptoms, knowing he could regress. It wasn't until he had four or five days without symptoms, including a full practice, that he was confident he was ready. He missed the first six regular-season games and still was a finalist for the Hart Trophy, with 89 points in 75 games, including an NHL-leading 44 goals.

Yes, the beginning of the regular season is much different from the playoffs from a competitive standpoint. It should not be any different from a concussion standpoint. As badly as Crosby must want to come back, as badly as the Penguins must want him to come back, both know he can't until he passes every test.

Crosby was at the rink Tuesday. Sullivan said he was upbeat and positive.

"We're very optimistic and we're hopeful that we'll get him back in a timely fashion," Sullivan said.

The Penguins certainly should hope for the best while doing everything to guard against the worst, for Crosby's sake and the sake of everyone watching.

"I care a lot about him, about my teammates, and we've been friends for a long time," said Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who has played with Crosby since 2005-06. "I know he's very devoted to the team and always working out there, so we just hope he feels better soon and see him smile again."

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