Crosby skates, but several variables cloud potential return

Tim and Sid discuss Matt Niskanen's hit on Sidney Crosby, Ovechkin's role and if the incident could have been avoided completely.

When Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan confirmed Sidney Crosby had in fact suffered a concussion in Game 3, reasonable people assumed that it was unlikely the Hart Trophy finalist would return to the lineup in the Penguins’ second-round series against Washington.

The official announcement was on Tuesday and, even if the series went to the maximum distance, that would give Crosby a week and a day to be symptom-free to return for Game 7. Too tight a turnaround, it seemed from the cheap seats and couches.

And because Washington won Game 3 and climbed back in the series, reasonable people assumed that Crosby was effectively done until next fall. The Capitals had to win three more games but that seemed quite doable, given that they were the Presidents’ Trophy winners and Crosby’s void in the Penguins’ lineup is one that can’t be filled with available flesh.

That’s how it looked right up until the puck drop in Game 4 Wednesday.

Things look radically different now.

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For starters, Pittsburgh beat Washington 3-2 in Game 4. What the Penguins lost in Crosby’s absence was at least partially made up with elevated commitment and desire, not that it had been low on either count. They hold a commanding 3-1 series lead, which is just about as commanding as it gets if you haven’t already won a fourth game. One more win an they’re through and they’ve got three shots at it.

Then there’s the fact that Crosby was skating at the Penguins’ training facility Thursday morning. “He’s in the process of rehabbing,” Sullivan said. “We’ll just leave it at that. It’s a day-to-day process. We’re taking each day as it comes.”

You can read the tea leaves as you please.

You can because I can’t stop you and I’m not inclined to clean up tea leaves after the fact.

You can say: Sidney Crosby skated and so he’ll be good to go Saturday night.

To this you can add: The Pens caught a huge break with the extra day’s rest between Games 4 and 5 and Crosby will have an extra day to heal.

That’s the first scenario.

You can go another way.

You can say: Sidney Crosby skated less than 72 hours after suffering a concussion per the Penguins’ medical update? Seriously, that’s really pushing it, isn’t it?

To this you can add: Is there anyone who has said no to Crosby except former Penguins employees?

If Sidney Crosby felt like he was good to skate, he’s free to exercise that choice. It seems bold as hell but he’s well aware of his cognitive functioning and he’s better acquainted with concussions than almost any layperson.

I’d caution against running too far with the fact that Crosby skated Thursday. The real issue with concussion recovery: It isn’t whether he feels good skating or on the stationary bike today but how you feel an hour after or a day after or however long after.

If he’s skating Friday, then it’s reason for Crosby, the Penguins and tea-leaves readers to reassess.

Watching Game 4, you might presume that there’s no reason to rush Crosby back in the lineup. After all, the Penguins did win without him. If you watched that game you’d also note that the Capitals lost without Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, effectively without anyway. They exhibited less emotional commitment and dedication to craft than the average convict punching licence plates. The Capitals had no official word about their return, although coach Barry Trotz hinted afterwards that he expects it.

Crosby hasn’t been ruled out for Game 5, so suspense builds. He did miss games at the start of this season with a concussion suffered in training camp, when you’d presume that everyone on the ice was exercising caution even when he wasn’t. When Sullivan says Crosby is day-to-day, he speaks of the star’s condition presently and generally.

Crosby knows that the brain can be a funny and unfunny thing—that recovery doesn’t always run a straight line and keep a tight schedule. No doubt he wants to play Saturday. How much he’s willing to risk is something we can’t know and maybe even he can’t estimate.

In the first two games of this series, Penguins’ wins in Washington, we saw Crosby at the absolute height of his powers. He and Patric Hornqvist and rookie Jake Guentzel were playing at another level, the best line in the league. If Crosby returns to this series, does he return at that very same level?

At that point the day-to-day would become shift-to-shift.

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