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Penguins Report: Game Day at NY Rangers

by Staff Writer / Pittsburgh Penguins

  • Crosby is back (10:20 AM).
  • Letang will also play tonight vs. NYR (12:21 PM).
  • Day's wrap in the Game Day Report (2:50 PM).
  • Crosby and Letang discuss their returns (1:13 PM).
  • Pens lines at morning skate (11:36 AM).
  • Big game vs. NYR (10:10 AM).
  • Biron starts in goal for Rangers (11:33 AM).
  • What to watch tonight (11:00 AM).
  • Pens starting to get healthy (2:48 PM).
  • Coach Bylsma on Crosby & more (1:47 PM).
  • Pens pics (2:15 PM).
  • “Believe, believe in me…” (10:00 AM).

2:50 PM:
PensTV was at Madison Square Garden to capture all the events as Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang return to the lineup. We wrapped all the news into the Verizon Game Day Report.

--Sam Kasan

2:48 PM:
The Pens are starting to get healthy, and at just the right time.

But heading into Thursday’s game against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden, that’s exactly what the Penguins will finally have – at least in terms of skaters, as backup netminder Brent Johnson is still sidelined with an undisclosed injury.

The captain’s return means that the Penguins, who have suffered 322 man-games lost this year after battling through 350 man-games lost last season, will have their top three centers – Crosby,
Evgeni Malkin, and Jordan Staal – together in the same lineup for just the 11th time in the last two years.

Full story here.

(Getty Images)

--Sam Kasan

2:15 PM:
Pens pics...

Sidney Crosby is back

HC Dan Bylsma instructs the team, then ties his skates

Team stretch (left); Kris Letang is back (right)

Team race (left); Neal and Malkin flash smiles at the morning skate (right)

--Sam Kasan

1:47 PM:
Coachspeak with Dan Bylsma…

On working Crosby back into the lineup:
I’ve laughed pretty heartily over some of the speculation of how you fit him in. Everyone wants to get Sidney Crosby back in our lineup. Everyone wants Sidney Crosby on our power play and getting him back in our mix. It’s great. At this point in time we have 14 games. There’s going to be some adjustments – lines, playing time, power play. There is a significant amount of time to get some of those adjustments. If it’s a problem, it’s a good problem to have.

On if Crosby will want to play more than 15 minutes:
We’ve talked about this for three weeks or so, getting back and what that will look like, how much time we have. We’ve talked about it. We understand it will be a little bit different than last time. We’re 14 games left towards the playoffs. Last time, it was like we had the rest of the season. We had over 60 games left. We know how much hockey we’re playing in the next month. We know we’re playing three (games) in four (days). So yeah, I think Sid is going to want to be out there – probably for 20 minutes. But Geno (Evgeni Malkin) wants to be out there 25 minutes and he only plays around 20-21. He wants to be out there all the time. Do you get the look like ‘hey, I’m ready to go out there?’ Yeah, you get it. You even get it from the penalty killers when it’s their turn to go out. We’re going to be working through it, but we all understand it’s going to be a work in progress when it comes to his minutes and getting it back up to where he’s going to want to be on the ice – for 20-21 minutes – after 14 games or so.

On if he’ll be anxious to see how Crosby reacts to the first big hit:
Not really too anxious. I think Sid is the type of player who I’ve never seen shy away from going right into the hard areas or the traffic areas. I’ve never seen him not drive the net or go into the corner with a shoulder and a bump and a spin trying to win the puck. He’s been doing that in practice. When it’s non-contact, you’ve got to remind him to stay out of those areas and situations. He’s been doing that for a while, so I expect him to go out his first shift and go right after the puck the way we have seen him do so many times before.

On this being a statement game for his team:
Sid is coming back for our team today. But this game is about a lot more than a comeback game for Sid. We know that if we want to catch the Rangers and catch first in our division, and hopefully first in the conference, we have to beat them. We have to win the two games we have remaining against them. That started for us the last time we played them. We knew we had to win that game and now we’re coming in here to win the two points. I don’t even think we can give them one point and realistically think we have a chance to get them. That’s what this game is for us. That’s what it was two weeks ago when we knew we were going to play them three more times. We’ve gotten closer. We’ve gotten within six points. We have a game in hand and this game would get us two more points closer to where our goal is, at the top of the division.

On Kris Letang:
Kris will be playing tonight. We’re probably not going to put Kris in a spot where he could play 24-25 minutes. But in terms of managing his game, what he normally averages is going to be fine for Kris. He hasn’t been out a long time. He’s in great shape. He’ll get right back into the flow of things paired up with Paul Martin and playing that spot.

--Michelle Crechiolo

1:13 PM:
Sounds heard around the visitors locker room…

Sidney Crosby

On if it’s possible to treat this like any other game:
Yeah, I’ve already been through it once. Just looking forward to getting out there and obviously this is a big game, so I want to make sure that I’m ready and sharp and ready to contribute.

On what makes this comeback different from his last one:
Probably just the time of the year and having gone through it and knowing what to expect a little bit more. I would say those two things, probably.

On if there’s less apprehension this time:
There wasn’t really any each time. It was more anxious to play, excited to get out there. As for nerves and stuff, that’s pretty normal if you’ve missed any extended length of time. But I don’t feel like it’s any more than usual. Really, I just want to get back into a normal routine of playing games and pairings and that kind of thing. That’s kind of what I’m looking for.

On if he hopes to get hit early to get it out of the way:
Whether I get hit on the first shift or third period, that’s not that important at this point. I feel like I’m pretty tested. That other stuff is kind of out of my control. I’ve done my best to prepare and make sure I’m ready. I’m confident with that. I’m not concerned whether it’s the first shift or whatever.

On managing his ice time:
I think we’ll just see how it goes. You can’t predict how things are going to play out with power plays and combinations that (coach Dan Bylsma) might use. Obviously, you always want to play. I think any guy will tell you that. But I’ve got to understand what’s within the means of coming back. Everything being considered, I’m sure they’ll have communication there in making sure I’m feeling good. If that’s the case and you feel like you can play more, so be it. If not, we’ll kind of go like that.

On if he could have picked a bigger stage to come back:
It’s a big game for us. They’re all big right now down the stretch. We’re excited. It’s fun this time of year when you have big games like this, but this isn’t the only big game we’re going to play the rest of the season. We’ll focus on it and get up for it just like they will, but there’s a number of important games here down the stretch. So this isn’t our last game of the season.

On the last time he felt this healthy:
I think that I feel good. I don’t feel worse. I feel good. I’m confident and feel like I’ve prepared and have a lot of energy. It’s more just getting used to the grind of playing. That will be tested pretty well here the remainder of the season with the amount of games we have. I feel really good. I’m really happy with the way I feel.

On what he has to do to work his way back with a team that’s won nine in a row:
You’ve just got to go out there and play the same way. As any player will tell you, you’ve got to play within your role. I know what that is for me. I’ve got to go out there and create chances and contribute. I don’t think it changes anything. I feel like I can go out there and do that. There’s going to be an adjustment period for that, but I still feel like I can do that.

On recreating his last return:
That’d be tough to repeat, for sure. I just want to go out there and make sure that I contribute and create. I’ve worked hard the last few months trying to get back. I feel good, so these are exciting games that you want to play in. Whether I had missed the time that I did or I didn’t and we’re playing this game, you want to play well in big games. That doesn’t change.

Kris Letang

On if he’s surprised to be playing this soon:
Yes. I guess I was scared a little bit during that game, but looking back at it, the symptoms were not that bad and I rehabilitated easier.

On when he started to realize it wasn’t as severe as he was afraid it was:
Well, the first time I got dizzy and I got sick. (This time) it was just a question of headaches and stuff like that. It wasn’t that bad.

On if it was ever diagnosed as another concussion:
Call it whatever you want. I had headaches and we were not taking any chances. We did tests for concussions, that is the only thing I know. I passed to get cleared to play. But I didn’t do one. I was just not cleared to go back on the ice in Dallas.

On if he hopes to assume his usual workload tonight:
Yeah, hopefully. Hopefully I worked hard enough to get back in the same shape I was before. Obviously, we want to keep it simple in the first game back. Make sure I make simple plays and get back into it.

On what a healthy Penguins team can do:
I think everybody kind of looks at our lineup right now and sees that everybody is healthy. But you never know. The chemistry we had before, I think we have a pretty tight group and I think we can do a lot of good stuff, but we have to get everybody going at the same time.

--Michelle Crechiolo

12:21 PM:
Defenseman Kris Letang said that he will be in the lineup tonight vs. NYR (which was confirmed by head coach Dan Bylsma).

This will be Letang's first game back after missing five games with symptoms from a hit he took on Feb. 29 vs. Dallas. He has been practicing with the team for the last few days. Huge boost for Pittsburgh to get both Letang and Crosby back in the lineup.

(Getty Images)

--Michelle Crechiolo

11:36 AM:
As expected, both Crosby and Letang are on the ice for the Pens morning skate, which is now underway. The team is in the midst of line rushes. Here are the combinations...


The 7 defensemen are rotating (Letang skated mostly with Paul Martin).

--Michelle Crechiolo

11:33 AM:
It's official: the media is reporting that Henrik Lundqvist himself confirmed that he is not game ready and will not play in tonight's game. That means Martin Biron will get the start.

Though Lundqvist is considered by many to be the runaway candidate for this year's Vezina Trophy, Biron is a more than capable backup. He is 12-4-2 on the season and has held opponents to two or fewer goals in 10 of his 18 starts.

     "Lundqvist says that he wants to play, but Biron is playing well and he is not game ready after battling the flu."


--Michelle Crechiolo

11:18 AM:
Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist was on the ice for the Rangers. He took part in the entire practice. However, Martin Biron left the ice first.

     "Torts said he wasn't sure if Lundqvist (flu) would play, but Biron just went off the ice first, a sign he is in."


--Sam Kasan

11:00 AM:
As noted earlier, the Pens are trying to catch the Rangers for the top spot in the East. New York is missing some key players from the lineup with Ryan Callahan (bruised foot) and Michael Del Zotto (hip) out of the lineup. Goalie Henrik Lundqvist missed the team's Tuesday contest with an illness.

For all the details on what to watch for in tonight's game, click here.

--Sam Kasan

10:30 AM:
While Crosby may be stealing all the headlines, don’t overlook the fact that the Pens also might be getting a boost on the back end. Defenseman Kris Letang is close to returning to the lineup. He’s practiced the past few days and head coach Dan Bylsma said on Wednesday, "He’s heading towards being in. He had a good day (Tuesday) with the team, he had another good day today and we’re expecting him to come to the rink (Thursday) having a good day and being ready to play."

We’ll check with Letang and Bylsma after the morning skate. It’s possible that Pittsburgh could add two big pieces to the team in one night. Fingers crossed.

(Getty Images)

--Sam Kasan

10:20 AM:
As stated earlier, some guy named Sidney Crosby is returning to the lineup tonight against New York. The Pens captain, and arguably the greatest player in the world, will lace up the skates for the first time since Dec. 5. After a 40-game absence, Crosby is back. It’s a great day for hockey.

Full details here on Crosby’s comeback. Click here for to see how the Pens will adjust their lineup with Crosby’s return.

(Getty Images)

--Sam Kasan

10:10 AM:
The Pens are sitting six points behind the Rangers for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. When these two teams last met, Feb. 21, Pittsburgh was behind by 10 points and catching New York seemed unfathomable. However, the Pens have closed the gap to six points (with a game in hand). Pittsburgh has a legitimate shot of overtaking the Rangers, but it’s critical that they win the last two games against them, starting with tonight’s matchup.

More on Pittsburgh’s quest to jump the Rangers here.

(Getty Images)

--Sam Kasan

10:00 AM:
Good morning from New York City! Today the Pens will take on the New York Rangers at the famous Madison Square Garden at 7 p.m.


Tonight Sidney Crosby returns to the lineup for the first time in over three months. The last time he came back from a long layoff he had an epic return with two goals and four points against the NY Islanders on Nov. 21, 2011. On that day, I opened the blog with the Smashing Pumpkin’s “Tonight, tonight.” Call me superstitious, but why ruin a good thing?

So in the hopes of a great repeat performance, we’ll start the day with the Pumpkins' "Tonight tonight." We'll switch it up slightly with an acoustic version. Enjoy.

--Sam Kasan
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