SIDNEY CROSBY SPLIT a pair of defenders, worked the puck to his backhand and let it fly.
New York Islanders goaltender Anders Nilsson never had a chance.
Welcome back, Sid the Kid.
The Pittsburgh Penguins superstar capped his 10-month comeback from concussion-like symptoms in thrilling fashion, scoring a pair of goals to go with two assists in a 5-0 victory last night.
It was a storybook end to Crosby’s frustratingly methodical return, one marked by numerous setbacks, rumors and questions about whether the 24-year-old former MVP would regain the form that’s made him one of the league’s most popular players.
The early returns were a resounding yes.
Skating onto the ice to chants of “Crosby! Crosby!” the Penguins captain wasted little time showing he was back for good.
Pittsburgh nearly scored on his first shift and he made his third one count, taking a pass from linemate Pascal Dupuis before racing through the New York defense and zeroing in on Nilsson. The gloveside backhand was good for a moment that was nearly a year in the making.
Crosby thrust his arms to the sky in triumph, letting out a guttural scream as crowd waved “Sid!” signs.
He did it again near the end of the first period, feeding Brooks Orpik on a pass to the point that Orpik turned into his second goal of the season.
It was the kind of brilliant performance reminiscent of Crosby’s idol, Hall of Famer and current Penguins owner Mario Lemieux.
Super Mario notched a goal and two assists in his return from retirement in 2000.
Crosby said yesterday it’d be hard to match the moment.
It was. And Crosby may have topped it anyway.
Crosby’s return produced the kind of buzz normally reserved for a Stanley Cup final. The team issued more than 250 media credentials — about four times the usual number for a late-November game — and upper concourse seats were being scalped for $275 two hours before the puck dropped.
Though Pittsburgh has gotten along just fine this season without its captain, entering last night tied with Philadelphia atop the Atlantic Division, it understood things change the moment No. 87 slides off the bench and onto the ice.
In the span of a day, the Penguins went from Cup contenders to Cup favorites.
Crosby played with the kind of peerless ferocity that’s become his trademark, the kind his teammates have seen enough of since training camp began to think the road back to spectacular play for their leader will be a short one.
“It’s not going to be easy but who knows, he can make it look easy,” team-mate Jordan Staal said.
You can’t really do it unless you go through it, but he’s talented enough that he can do some great things.
And do them in bunches. Crosby was on his way to capturing his second MVP award when he was injured.
It all changed on 6 January when he was diagnosed with concussion-like symptoms that he later described as “fogginess.”
He unwittingly became a case study for the effects of head shots on the game and led the NHL to crack down on such plays.
If it helps make the sport he loves safer, Crosby is all for it. That’s not why he came back, however. He wanted to play, not make a statement.
“I’ve been working hard the last couple months to make sure when it’s time to come back, I’m ready,” Crosby said. “Do I expect to be where I was in January last year? Probably not, but I expect to contribute.”
It’s a relief to be back but it’s not time to start gliding now. It’s time to get going.