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PITTSBURGH -- After missing more than a month recovering from a broken jaw, Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby returned to action Friday night in Game 2 of the Penguins' Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against the New York Islanders.
Crosby said he was medically cleared to play Thursday afternoon. He worked out with his regular linemates, Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz, Friday morning at the team's morning skate, just as he did on Thursday during the team's practice. He also spent time working with the Penguins' top power-play unit and said he feels comfortable and ready to rejoin live action.
"I think that if a doctor clears you to play, that gives you a lot of confidence going out there knowing that you can play and take a hit, so I'm not concerned," Crosby said.
The Penguins won the opening game of the series Wednesday night by a 5-0 count, but the return of arguably the best player in the game -- he was leading the NHL scoring race by a wide margin when he was injured -- makes the talented Penguins an even more dangerous team.
"It means a lot. He's the guy that sets the elite skill level out there and more important the competition level out there," said Pittsburgh defenseman Douglas Murray.
"Obviously it's a confidence boost getting his skill back in the lineup."
Islanders coach Jack Capuano said you have to accept that someone with Crosby's skill is going to get chances and that his return will give a boost to his teammates and to the hometown crowd at the Consol Energy Center.
"It'll be electric, there's no question, but at the same time we've gone into some tough buildings this year down the stretch," Capuano said.
"Maybe our team will rise to the occasion knowing that he's in. We just have to try and contain him the best that we can."
Crosby, who finished tied for third in league scoring with 56 points in 36 games, talked about his excitement at rejoining his teammates in the playoffs.
"I think every time you play in the playoffs there's always a little bit extra, especially coming back after missing some time," Crosby said. "I think you just want to make sure you're ready, but we're all excited to play in those kinds of games, you welcome that, these are the ones you want to be in."
The Penguins' captain was felled by a deflected puck in a game against the Islanders on March 30. He will be wearing a protective plastic shield attached to his helmet to try to limit contact with his jaw area. It's obvious it will take some getting used to when it comes to accepting passes and handling the puck.
I think you try not to think about it. I think once you get in a game and hopefully you get out there and get playing, it's not something you think about a whole lot. But I don't really know how I'm going to kind of approach that until I play, right? But I think mentally I feel confident I can go out there and play in a playoff game.” -- Sidney Crosby on return to ice
"Again, until I play I'm not going to really know how it feels. I'm not worried about it," he said.
Assuming Crosby does play mostly with Kunitz and Dupuis, the comfort of familiarity should ease his return after missing this much playing time.
"There's a lot of familiarity there. We should be able to find each other and create things. If anything my timing may be a little off, but I think that's something that comes pretty quickly," he said.
As for being tentative when it comes to moving in high-traffic areas and in the corners, Crosby hopes that once the game begins it won't be a consideration.
"I think you try not to think about it," he said. "I think once you get in a game and hopefully you get out there and get playing, it's not something you think about a whole lot. But I don't really know how I'm going to kind of approach that until I play, right? But I think mentally I feel confident I can go out there and play in a playoff game."
Although coach Dan Bylsma won't comment on lineup or injury issues, he did say that the team is looking forward to getting Crosby back in the mix.
He noted that Crosby has made an immediate impact when he's returned from injury in the past.
"I joked that I should really plan on that; I could just hold him out until a really important game. But when Sid gets back on the ice you're going to see him in similar situations and similar spots on our team, and we're looking forward to getting him back with our group with our team with his line when that happens," Bylsma said.
While Crosby returned to the lineup, forward James Neal, who missed most of the last two periods of Game 1 after taking a hit from Travis Hamonic, was a scratch.