Crosby ready to face the hits on ice

Pittsburgh Penguins Sidney Crosby (87), recently cleared for physical contact, checks teammate Joe...

Pittsburgh Penguins Sidney Crosby (87), recently cleared for physical contact, checks teammate Joe Vitale during practice in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania ahead of his return. (REUTERS/David DeNoma)

Lance Hornby, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:09 PM ET

NEW YORK - The last person to depart Sidney Crosby’s massive morning media scrum at Madison Square Garden was colourful Pittsburgh radio voice Mike Lange.

He playfully batted the bill of Crosby’s Pensguins’ cap, welcoming him back to the lineup, no doubt hoping to he’ll be shouting "slap me silly Sidney" at least once on Thursday, his signature call for a goal by No. 87.

Crosby makes his second dramatic return to action, but the stakes are much higher higher. If Crosby can play even close to his old form (his eight games in November produced 12 points), then the NHL playoff odds board is changed. If the concussion symptoms return, Crosby is done for the year and maybe for his career.

So everyone will be watching for that first big hit when the Pens take on the Rangers at Madison Square Garden in a game that will be shown nationally in the U.S. and Canada.

“Whether I get (hit) first shift or third period, it’s not that important,” Crosby said. “I think I’m pretty tested.”

“I don’t know if it’s any more unusual than last time. Really, I just want to get back in a normal routine and play some games.

“This (injury) doesn’t change anything. I’m going to play my own way, create chances.”

Crosby came back last time to face a weak New York Islanders team and had a huge four-point night. This game, with Pittsburgh already on a nine-game winning streak, is being billed as an early showdown for first place in the Eastern Conference.

Star centres Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal have rarely been in the lineup together the past couple of years. The upstart Rangers are playing for a lot more than the Isles were and thus the body contact will likely be greater.

“With the intensity of this time of year to be considered, I wouldn’t expect it not to be physical,” Crosby said. “But I feel like I was also tested physically before I had the concussion.

“I don’t even remember 14 months ago (the two heavy hits in January of 2011 that shelved him until November). I feel good, I have lots of energy. It will be more getting used to the grind of playing. I don’t expect to be where I was 14 months ago, I expect to be at a pretty good level and to create things.”

Crosby is expected to start out slow on a line that will comprise Matt Cooke and one of Chris Kunitz, Tyler Kennedy or Pascal Dupuis. He will be with Malkin on the power play, working on the point there during the morning skate. Coach Dan Bylsma reserved the right to go beyond the projected 15 minutes of ice time for Crosby and change around wingers.

“Sid will want to be out there 20 minutes, but Malkin will want to be out 25 instead of 20,” Bylsma reminded. “It’s a good problem to have.”

Cooke is more than ready to watch Crosby’s back, but doesn’t think he’ll have to be over-protective.

“I trust and believe that Sid knows his body best,” Cooke said. “I don’t really worry about it, because we’re talking about the best hockey player in the world. He’s 100% and he’s going to play a certain way.

“Obviously I’ll be aware of where he is, but he’s knows guys are coming and he knows where he is on the ice. I’m sure he has expectations of the other teams’ (intentions) as well.”

Defenceman Kris Letang is also back for Pittsburgh after his own concussion scare, while the Rangers will be without flu-ridden No. 1 goalie Henrik Lundqvist, turning to Martin Biron.


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