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Sidney Crosby will play for Penguins 'when ready'

Center practices with Pittsburgh four days after sustaining concussion, says 'I trust the process'

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

CRANBERRY, Pa. -- Watching the Pittsburgh Penguins practice on Friday, you never would have known center Sidney Crosby had taken a blow to the head and sustained a concussion four days before.

The Penguins captain went through a full-contact session at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex, and centered a line with Jake Guentzel and Patric Hornqvist.

Athletic performance should not be assumed to be a sign of how well someone is recovering, but at one point Crosby took a pass on the rush, pirouetted to avoid a defender and passed to a linemate. At another, he stopped sharply, spun 180 degrees, stickhandled through traffic in the slot and unleashed a backhand shot.

 

[RELATED: Crosby back at practice | Complete series coverage]

 

"There's nothing that says he's not doing well," forward Carl Hagelin said. "He looked like the same old Sid out there. I'm happy he's OK."

Crosby said he didn't want to rule out playing against the Washington Capitals in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Second Round at Verizon Center on Saturday (7:15 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVA Sports). The Penguins lead the best-of-7 series 3-1.

If this seems awfully fast, it is.

Crosby cut to the net on a 2-on-1 rush, got knocked off balance by Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin and took a cross-check to the side of the head from Washington defenseman Matt Niskanen in Game 3.

He lay on his back, rolled onto all fours, lay flat on his stomach and rolled onto his left side as a trainer examined him. He had to be helped up by Hornqvist and defenseman Ron Hainsey, then glided to the bench hunched over and left the game 5:24 into the first period.

Video: Should the Penguins play Sidney Crosby up 3-1?

That was Monday. Coach Mike Sullivan announced the concussion diagnosis on Tuesday. Crosby skated on Wednesday, although it wasn't reported publicly, and missed Game 4. He skated again on Thursday. Now this.

Is this too fast?

It's a fair question and concern. Crosby has had multiple concussions. Concussion symptoms can show up later. The last time Crosby had a concussion, he received the diagnosis Oct. 10. He skated the next day and kept skating most days afterward, but he waited until he had four or five days without symptoms before returning Oct. 25. He missed six regular-season games.

But a history of concussions isn't a reason in itself to go slower with return progression. Each concussion is different. Crosby, the Penguins and the doctors have experience, expertise and firsthand knowledge of the situation. They know the science and the risks.

"I think having gone through this, I'd like to think I'm pretty aware of my body at this point," Crosby said. "I understand the importance of making sure you're good before you come back. I have a lot of belief in our staff here that they're going to do everything in their power to make sure that I'm good when I come back. I trust them. I trust the process you have to go through. Whenever it's time, I'll be ready."

Crosby's responsibility is to be honest with the doctors about how he's feeling. Their responsibility is to put him through the appropriate protocol.

"I tell them how I feel, and they tell me what the next step is," Crosby said.

Video: The crew discusses the resiliency of the Penguins

Asked about his progression since Monday, Crosby said: "I felt pretty good right from the next day to now, probably as good as you could expect."

Asked if he had any symptoms at all, Crosby said: "I feel good. Right now, just kind of following what I'm told to do. Now I feel good."

Sullivan said Crosby's status remains day to day.

"We'll see how he responds, and we'll go from there," Sullivan said.

The Penguins cannot treat Crosby differently than any other player, and they cannot accelerate the process because this is the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But there is no indication they are.

Forward Conor Sheary also sustained a concussion in Game 3 on Monday and missed Game 4 on Wednesday. He also skated on Thursday, at least, and practiced Friday. He said if he felt good Saturday morning, he might be a game-time decision for Game 5.

"I don't want to put myself in the clear yet," Sheary said. "I hope I have another good day today. But I have been surprised with yesterday and today that I've been pretty much symptom-free, so that's a good sign.

"It's definitely an injury you don't want to rush back into. Even with the magnitude of these games and playoffs, I think you get that urge to want to play, but you have to make sure you take it carefully and make sure you take those steps."

Asked directly if the Penguins were handling Crosby any differently than they would in the regular season -- rushing him back, or not being as patient -- Sullivan said: "No. He's going through a process just like all of our players would go through a process, and we rely on our medical staff to advise us and help us make the best decision. The priority has always been on the health of our players first and foremost, and that will never change."

This is the bottom line:

"We trust our doctors," Sullivan said. "We trust our medical team. When they tell us that he's OK, then we have confidence that Sid's good."

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