PITTSBURGH — Sidney Crosby’s comeback — version 2.0 — could come on Broadway.
The Pittsburgh Penguins star ruled himself out for Sunday’s game against Boston but is optimistic he could play for the first time since early December when the team travels to play the Eastern Conference-leading New York Rangers on Thursday.
“Any game at this point is going to be exciting,” Crosby said. “A game like that you have need to make sure that you’re that much more ready.”
And Crosby is not, at least not yet.
The 24-year-old former MVP practiced with his teammates on Saturday but feels he needs a few more days of mixing it up with them before donning his familiar No. 87 for the first time since concussion-like symptoms resurfaced following a lost to the Bruins on Dec. 5.
“This is something you don’t want to mess around with,” Crosby said Saturday. “You’ve got to make sure, especially this time of year. It’s more physical than ever and you have to make sure everything is well tested and I have to make sure I’ve done the right things to prepare. That’s basically what it comes down to.”
Doctors cleared Crosby for contact earlier this week and he hinted he’d be able to return as early as Sunday against the defending Stanley Cup champions. But Pittsburgh’s cramped schedule and limited practice time has him being cautious.
Besides, the streaking Penguins are in no rush. Pittsburgh has won eight straight games to close within four points of the Rangers in the race for the Atlantic Division title and home ice throughout the playoffs.
The Penguins will have a rare late-season break next week. They’re off on Sunday and will practice on Tuesday and Wednesday before a pivotal three-game road trip through New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia.
Though his teammates are getting by just fine without one of the game’s top players, Crosby said he’s anxious to get back soon so the team can adjust before the playoffs start next month.
“I think you’re always feeling more pressure when you’ve missed this much time,” he said. “It’s really nice that we’re winning, that’s most important but I think that there’s always a tendency to have high expectations and I have high expectations for myself.”
Crosby had 12 points in eight games after making his season debut against the New York Islanders on Nov. 21 but went back on injured reserve when the symptoms — headaches, dizziness and motion issues — returned following a physical loss to the Bruins.
Over the last three months Crosby has hopscotched across the continent talking to experts. He took a shot for a previously undiagnosed soft tissue injury in his neck that mimics the symptoms of a concussion.
He stressed his head is clear and has been eager to initiate contact with his teammates during practice. Of course, finding a willing opponent can be difficult.
“You’ve got to pick your opponent and there’s a couple guys that I’ve been skating with a lot,” Crosby said. “The first couple times you really have to egg them on. But once they see you’re in shape and want to engage in that physical stuff, they’re more willing.”
The biggest question after when Crosby will return is who will skate alongside him. The line of James Neal, Evgeni Malkin and Chris Kuntiz has fueled Pittsburgh’s 20-4-1 run since Jan. 13, and the second line of Jordan Staal, Pascal Dupuis and Steve Sullivan has picked it up the last two weeks.
Crosby played with grinders Eric Tangradi and Dustin Jeffrey on Saturday, though it’s highly unlikely he’d do the same whenever he hops over the boards to play in a game.
Crosby, for one, isn’t picky.
“Everyone’s playing really well at this point,” he said. “It really doesn’t matter. I just want to get back out there.”