CRANBERRY TOWNSHIP — Sidney Crosby returned to work Friday, practicing with his Pittsburgh Penguins teammates barely four days removed from a frightening hit that left the him with a concussion, and his status for the rest of the playoffs uncertain.
While the two-time MVP declined to get into specifics whether he’ll be available for Game 5 at Washington on Saturday, he’s keeping his options open.
“We’ll see,” Crosby said. “I don’t want to rule it out. It’s not really up to me. You relay how you feel and they kind of direct you from there.”
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan is in no rush to make a decision on Crosby as the defending Stanley Cup champions try to close out the Capitals.
“We’ll see how he responds (to practicing) and go from there,” Sullivan said.
Still, the sight of Crosby on the ice and cleared for contact opens the possibility of Crosby playing in the near future — startling considering the way he left the ice in the first period of Game 3 on Monday after getting cross-checked in the head by Washington’s Matt Niskanen. The hit left him with his second concussion of the season and at least the fourth of his career. He needed nearly two years to recover from one sustained in January 2011, and missed two weeks when he was diagnosed with a concussion last October.
There’s a chance the wait may be even shorter this time for Crosby, who led the league with 44 goals and has four goals and seven assists through eight playoff games. Crosby felt “as good as you could expect” Tuesday morning. He was around to support his teammates during their 3-2 win in Game 4 and skated in full gear during a scheduled off day Thursday before rejoining the group Friday.
While Crosby appreciates the concern about his condition given his concussion history, he stressed he’s not rushing back. Game 6 would be Monday night in Pittsburgh if necessary.
“I think having gone through this I’d like to think I’m pretty aware of my body at this point,” he said. “I understand the importance of making sure you’re good before you come back. I have a lot of belief in our staff here that they’re going to do everything in their power to make sure I’m good when I come back.”
Crosby was skating in front of the Washington goal when he was knocked off-balance thanks to a whack from Capitals star Alexander Ovechkin before getting drilled by Niskanen. The defenseman, who received a 5-minute major and a game misconduct for the cross-check, insisted it wasn’t intentional. Washington coach Barry Trotz called it “a hockey play.”
Crosby had no issue with his run-in with Ovechkin, calling it “standard” practice when you skate in front of the opponent’s net. He reserved judgment on Niskanen, a former teammate. Crosby said the collision isn’t “one that happens too often,” but later added “it’s really tough to gauge that one. Things happen fast out there.”
Trotz “wouldn’t be surprised” if he saw Crosby’s familiar No. 87 on Saturday night.
“Sid is a very intelligent young man and he will make the right decision,” Trotz said.
Pittsburgh forward Conor Sheary, who also sustained a concussion in Game 3 after inadvertently getting checked by teammate Patric Hornqvist, also practiced in full gear Friday. Like Crosby, Sheary’s status is day to day. Penguins goaltender Matt Murray worked out before practice, a positive step as he recovers from a lower-body injury suffered during warm-ups before Game 1 of Pittsburgh’s first-round series against Columbus.
With Marc-Andre Fleury playing so well, Murray can take his time getting back. Sullivan insisted the team is taking the same approach with Crosby.
“We trust our doctors,” Sullivan said. “We trust our medical team, and when they tell us he’s OK, we’re confident Sid’s good.”