By Dejan Kovacevic, PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Sidney Crosby(notes) #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins shoot and scores past Anders Nilsson(notes) #45 oft he New York Islanders during the game at Consol Energy Center on November 21, 2011 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
It all came pouring out of Sidney Crosby with one breathtaking rush.
Nearly a full year of doubt and darkness, all the bouncing from doctors to neuropsychologists to chiropractors for answers, all the rumors and whispers, all of it was reduced to this one rush.
This was an enemy he could see.
This he could beat.
The Penguins' captain stormed through center ice, with no trace of fear, no nod to the severe concussion that had kept him from the game he loves for 320 days. He took a lead pass from Pascal Dupuis and, chin up, saw three New York Islanders strung across the blue line. It was one-on-three, essentially.
This was defenseman Zbynek Michalek's view from the Penguins' bench: "You could just see it coming. I knew the defenseman was in trouble because Sid was coming with all that speed."
That's defenseman, in the singular.
Crosby darted to the right to reduce it to one-on-two, and New York defenseman Travis Hamonic then inexplicably failed to slide over for support. So, Crosby zipped to the right of his only obstacle, defenseman Andrew MacDonald, then charged into the slot, lowered the left shoulder and blazed a trademark backhander over the glove of rookie Anders Nilsson.
With that, he spun away from the lighted lamp and let out a primal scream — maybe with an unprintable word in there — and pumped both fists.
"Yeah, I was really excited," Crosby would say later. "Part of waiting to play is that you're also hoping to get that first one. It came pretty early, which was nice."
As for whatever was shouted, he smiled sheepishly: "Hopefully, everybody wasn't reading my lips at home. I couldn't hold that in."
It was vintage Crosby, in style, energy, emotion and, above all, drama.
It came on his first shot, 5:24 into the first period, and it was merely the tip of a mesmerizing four-point masterpiece Monday night in the Penguins' 5-0 pasting of the Islanders, one that left the enthralled 18,571 jammed into Consol Energy Center with a lifetime memory.
Crosby went on to set up a one-timer by defenseman Brooks Orpik and a power-play stuff by center Evgeni Malkin, then twirled another backhander past Nilsson in the third period. On the latter, he spun defenseman Milan Jurcina silly before taking the shot, one of a whopping eight in just 15:54 of ice time. He also won two-thirds of his faceoffs and dished out as many hits — two — as he took.
In other words ...
"Sidney Crosby is back!" Dupuis fairly shouted. "I predicted five goals, but four points isn't too bad."
Another who believed was Jay Caufield, the former Penguins winger who trained Mario Lemieux for his emergence from retirement Dec. 27, 2000.
"Sid will be great, just like Mario was," Caufield said. "It never takes the great ones long."
Crosby was worthy of Lemieux on every level, and there is no higher praise in this town.
Actually, the parallels between this performance and Lemieux's only add to the tale: Lemieux had a similar output of a goal and two assists in a 5-0 victory — same score —over the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Civic Arena. Even this scene felt similar, thanks to Lemieux's idea to give all fans "SID" placards reminiscent of those "MARIO" models held up for No. 66's many comebacks.
And how about Crosby improving to a career plus-66 rating with that first goal?
Or now having 66 career points against the Islanders?
"He set the standard pretty high for comebacks," Crosby said of Lemieux. "It's pretty hard to match that."
This franchise has been blessed beyond words, and not just in Stanley Cups. The talent witnessed on Pittsburgh ice is headed by the greatest player in NHL history, Lemieux, and three others — Jaromir Jagr, Malkin and Crosby — who have combined to win 13 of the past 23 Art Ross Trophies.
We take stuff like that for granted around here.
It's telling that Crosby was wound tightly in the morning. He acknowledged nerves and wore a pained look all through waves and waves of reporters' questions.
"I'm just trying to enjoy being back," he said at one point, and it looked like he was trying very hard.
The look began to change for the mega-decibel pregame ovation. And it went the full mile after that first goal, when he was all teeth on the Penguins' bench. The kid in the Kid was back.
That's part of what makes Crosby who he is: He has performed under a microscope pretty much his whole life, and those who know him will attest that the only place he is truly himself is on a hockey rink.
As Crosby said of his recovery, "I think now's the easy part. Now, you get to play."
Tell it to those three Islanders.