Sidney Crosby will return to the Pittsburgh Penguins lineup when they host the Minnesota Wild at PPG Paints Arena on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, ATTSN-PIT, NHLTV).
"I'm playing tonight. Excited to be back in the lineup," the Penguins captain said after taking rushes on the first line and working with the first power-play unit during the morning skate Tuesday.
Crosby, who had core muscle surgery on Nov. 14, missed the past 28 games. A three-time Stanley Cup-winning player in his 15th NHL season, he has 17 points (five goals, 12 assists) in 17 games.
The center participated in his first full practice in Scottsdale, Arizona, on Saturday. He skated for nearly 90 minutes, working on the top power-play unit, then took part in multiple drills with several teammates after the full practice ended.
Crosby did not play in Pittsburgh's 4-3 shootout win against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on Sunday; the Penguins were off Monday.
"It's a slow process, you know? I think just as far as getting used to feeling good kind of at each point, that's the biggest thing," Crosby said. "I think that's part of the process. Guys who have been injured, we've had a lot of them this year, know what that's like. Just happy to get back."
Pittsburgh, 18-6-4 without Crosby this season, is in second place in the Metropolitan Division with 61 points, six behind the Washington Capitals and fourth in the NHL standings.
"The guys have played great," Crosby said. "Just want to come in and help."
The game against the Wild starts a busy stretch for the Penguins before the All-Star break; they play three games in four days and five in eight before being off for nine days.
Crosby said Saturday the condensed schedule would not impact the decision on when he would return.
"That's part of playing the season," he said. "You do everything to get ready and you trust that your body's in the right place to handle that. Either you're ready or you're not, and when you're ready, you're ready to handle that everyone has to play in those games. So I think, coming back, regardless of the schedule, I'll be ready."
Coach Mike Sullivan was asked Tuesday what Crosby's return means to the Penguins.
"It's hard to put it into words. He means so much to this organization," Sullivan said. "He means so much to his teammates. It's exciting to have him back. His on-ice play speaks for itself, and his ability to change the outcomes of games. He's a difference maker. But more so than that, he's a leader. I think that in of itself gives our team a big boost, so we're excited to have him back. It's been a long time. And I'm sure he's every bit as excited to be back in the lineup."
In a corresponding move, the Penguins assigned forward Joseph Blandisi to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League.