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Crosby's Return a Blessing

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins

Penguins Sidney Crosby took a pass at center ice with speed. He blew past one New York Islander, turned his body to protect the puck, looped around Andrew MacDonald and then lifted a backhander into the air. The puck sailed over the shoulder of goaltender Anders Nilsson and into the netting.

That play lasted all of four seconds, but was the culmination of nearly 11 months worth of hard work, determination and passion.

It’s been 320 days since Crosby last played an NHL game. He made his return Monday night against New York at CONSOL Energy Center.

It took him one shift to be a factor in the contest and just 5:24 minutes to get on the score sheet. The goal was the typical dramatic scene Penguins fans have come to expect from the universe’s best hockey player.

“I was really excited,” Crosby said. “Part of waiting to play is that you’re also waiting to get that first one. It came pretty early, which was nice.”

The goal will no doubt be a historic moment for the Penguins and will be replayed for many, many years. But the real story of the day wasn’t what Crosby did on the ice – a purely dominant and transcendent performance of two goals and four points – but simply that fact that he was able to lace up the skates and play the sport that rushes through his blood after fighting a long road of recovery from a concussion.

Getting a chance to see Crosby play is truly a blessing.

“The goals and assists were great obviously, but just being back out there I can’t really even describe it,” he said. “It was exciting. I was anxious. There were a lot of different things going through my mind. The main thing was to enjoy playing. That’s something that I’ve missed over the last 10 months.”

Until tonight, Crosby hadn’t played a game since Jan. 5 against Tampa Bay after being hit from behind by Victor Hedman. Crosby’s head slammed into the glass and the following day he was diagnosed with a concussion. He would miss the remainder of the 2010-11 season, which had appeared to be his finest year yet after totaling 32 goals and 66 points in just 41 games.

At that point, the issue became bigger than hockey. Now it was an issue of Crosby’s health and long-term well being. After a series of tests, Crosby began to slowly work his way back. From there it’s been a 10-plus month battle to return with many ups and downs, progressions and digressions.

There were some dark periods and a few setbacks that tested Crosby’s patience. But he persevered and fought on. The hockey world was burning with inaccurate retirement talks, speculation and rumors.

Crosby started Day 1 of this season’s training camp Sept. 17 cleared for practice, but without contact. He pushed himself as hard as he could for as long as he could and said he felt perfectly fine. Crosby was cleared for full contact Oct. 13 and began hitting. Then after meeting doctors Sunday, he was cleared to return.

And finally, Monday evening Crosby walked down the runway to the cacophonous roars of adoring and respecting fans. Minutes later the puck dropped (a faceoff Crosby of course won) and in an instant, everything was back to normal. It was all over.

Sidney Crosby is back.

“I’ve been waiting a long time to have this chance to go out there,” he said. “Whether I scored the goals or whatever happened, I was going to make sure I gave it my best effort. There is a lot of energy in store there after missing that amount of time. It was just something I’ve been waiting for, for a long time.”

Now Crosby’s comeback will be talked about in the same allure as those by owner/Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux, who made it a career of overcoming incredible odds.

Crosby’s comeback was special for a lot of people. But it was most special to the Penguins captain himself.

“I’ll have a great memory of this one for a lot of different reasons. That was a pretty fun one to be a part of. I’m happy it went well.”
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