wasn’t one of the 18,571 people packed into CONSOL Energy Center to see Sidney Crosby
’s long-awaited return to the lineup.
But as a goalie, he gets stretches of inaction where he can watch play unfold down in the opposing team’s end. And during those times, well, he did feel like one of the thousands watching in the stands as No. 87 posted a four-point night in his first NHL game since Jan. 5.
“I felt like a fan out there,” Fleury said with a laugh. “I was just very happy for him because I know he was hurt for a while and loves the game so much. Just very happy for him to come back and get that big goal and have some fun.”
He’s not the only one who felt that way.
When asked if he was able to separate himself watching the game as a a coach from watching as somebody who loves hockey, head coach Dan Bylsma answered in the affirmative before pausing for about seven seconds while shaking his head and smiling.
He then added, “And I don’t really have good words for it. That was special in a lot of ways – special to see him to step on the ice even for warm-ups, for the game, for the opening announcement, and then the first draw. It’s a faceoff and he battles like it was the last draw of the season.
“Some of the plays, the way he played, his goal – there was lots of things that were special about the evening. Just how dynamic he was in this game, it was a pleasure to be behind the bench watching that. “
Crosby scored on his first shot in his second shift just 5:24 minutes after the opening puck drop, which was part of his two goals, four points, plus-3 rating, 8 shots and 67-percent faceoffs wins in 15:54 minutes of ice time. It’s nothing short of a triumphant return for the 24-year-old superstar, a scene that made anyone who witnessed honored to have been a part of.
As Fleury put it, “You couldn’t have written it better, I guess. It’s pretty amazing.”
It’s a story Crosby’s teammates all know well. They’ve been skating with him since training camp opened back in September, and he’s been the best player on the ice during practice.
“For us, watching him every day in practice, even last year when we were in the playoffs and he was skating with us, he was doing amazing things,” defenseman Kris Letang
said. “He treated his rehab real seriously and that's what happens when you make the sacrifice. He came back and was 100 percent like he said he was going to be.”
Most of them admitted that a performance like this doesn’t surprise him. Because after all, Crosby isn’t just the best player at the Penguins practices – he’s the best player in the world, period. Special players do special things, and that’s just the way Crosby is.
“I’m not really surprised with what happened,” linemate Pascal Dupuis
said, who notched three assists. “He’s got a tendency of coming up big in big settings like this. This was something special again.”
“It’s Sidney Crosby
,” added winger Matt Cooke
. “The guy loves the stage and he loves to play. He’s one of the biggest competitors. Not just in hockey, but in everything he does. It’s proof of that tonight.”
A night like tonight was certainly worth the wait after almost 11 months.
The atmosphere was absolutely electric at CONSOL Energy Center from the second Crosby stepped on the ice for warmups. Needless to say, you couldn’t even hear yourself think as the fans welcomed back their captain.
“Oh my god, this place was wow,” Dupuis said. “It was pretty special. It was really loud.”
As overjoyed as the fans are to have Crosby back, his teammates are even more so.
“It was great to have Sid back, our captain and our leader,” linemate Chris Kunitz
said. “He adds so much to our team. Obviously we’re excited to have him back and playing at that level.”