Lightning coach thinks Crosby will play

Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby. (ERIC BOLTE/QMI AGENCY)

Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby. (ERIC BOLTE/QMI AGENCY)

ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:36 PM ET

PITTSBURGH - The company line from Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma is that Sidney Crosby "has not moved in his progression" in terms of recovering from concussion sustained in early January.

The company line from Tampa Bay Lightning coach Guy Boucher is that he isn't buying a word of it.

"Oh, he'll play (in the playoffs against the Lightning," Boucher said Wednesday after his team's morning skate at the Consol Energy Center. "We expect him to play and play at his best. It wouldn't surprise me if he played tonight."

While that seems to be a stretch -- Crosby's name did not appear on the roster on the game day notes though he did skate after the Penguins warmup, Boucher wants his team to be prepared for anything.

The first-year NHL coach believes Crosby, sidelined since Jan. 5, will return at some point in the Eastern Conference quarter-final series.

Penguins winger Chris Kunitz said watching Crosby do things with the puck in practice makes him miss the captain all that much more.

"We are eagerly waiting him to come back and when he comes back, he's one of the best players in the game," Kunitz said.

"The puck's all around his stick, it's in the net ... he's a lot of fun to watch. It's exciting."

The absence of Crosby and fellow offensive dynamo Evgeni Malkin hasn't slowed down the Penguins, who are storming into the post-season on an 8-2 run. But with the tight-checking Lightning as their opponent, the brand of playoff hockey Pittsburgh fans are accustomed to might be a tad different.

"They play a smothering, swarming defence," Bylsma said of the Lightning.

Tampa can put up some points as well with the dynamic trio of Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier. St. Louis finished the season on a nine-game point streak, putting up 14 points during that span.

There will be plenty of attention on Stamkos, a Markham, Ont., native, as he makes his playoff debut. But Boucher says he's doing his best to shelter his budding star from the spotlight.

"We don't want him to be different, we just want him to be himself," Boucher said. "I don't want to put any extra pressure on the kid."

GAME NOTES: The Penguins and Lightning meet for the first time in the playoffs. Atlanta is the only other Eastern Conference team Pittsburgh has not faced in the post-season ... The Pens are the fourth seed for the third consecutive season. The first time, they won the Cup and last year they fell to Montreal in the second round ... The Pens were 6-1 in their past seven series openers at home, but this is the first at the brand new Consol Energy Center ... The Lightning is in just the 10th playoff series in franchise history and its first since the 2006-07 season ... Tampa has been strong on the road, gaining at least a point in eight of its past nine games away from the St. Pete Times Forum ... Both teams enter the series opener with solid momentum: The Lightning were 7-3 in their past 10 while the Penguins were 8-2.


Photos