|Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby (87) celebrates his first-period goal during an NHL hockey game against the New York Islanders in Pittsburgh on Monday, Nov. 21, 2011. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)|
Crosby has 2 goals, 2 assists; Pens top Isles 5-0
PITTSBURGH—Sidney Crosby capped his comeback with a flourish.
Playing his first game in more than 10 months while recovering from concussion-like symptoms, Crosby appeared to be in midseason form. He scored on his third shift in spectacular fashion, weaving through the New York defense before beating Anders Nilsson with a backhand for his first goal since last December.
Crosby added assists on goals by Evgeni Malkin and Brooks Orpik and capped his comeback with a second tally, a backhand that fluttered by Nilsson early in the third period to provide the final margin.
"Sidney Crosby's back, guys," linemate Pascal Dupuis said.
Steve Sullivan also scored for the Penguins while Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 29 shots.
Nilsson, making just his second start of the season, made 31 saves for New York.
The rookie looked overwhelmed at times as the Penguins roared to life with their captain back.
Fans held placards with "Sid' on them -- a directive from Hall of Famer and team owner Mario Lemieux -- while others brought homemade homages to "Sid the Kid," including one that read "Merry Sid-Mas."
Crosby's return gave a late-November game between a perennial contender and an overmatched also-ran a playoff-like feel, and not just because more than 250 press credentials were handed out, four times the usual number.
Throughout his achingly slow rehab the 24-year-old stressed he wouldn't return until he felt 100 percent and stressed it would be nearly impossible to top Lemieux's successful return from retirement in 2000, when he notched an assist on his first shift then later added a goal and another helper.
Amazingly, Crosby one-upped his boss.
Displaying the speed that's made him a national icon in his native Canada and the face of the sport at age 24, Crosby transformed the Penguins from Cup contender to Cup favorite in less than 6 minutes, or the time it took him to score his first goal in 328 days.
Finishing off a backcheck, Crosby streaked up the ice, took a pass from Dupuis as he crossed the center line and went to work. He worked the puck to his backhand, slipped past New York's Andrew MacDonald and flipped the puck over Nilsson's glove.
The normally reticent Crosby screamed as he skated into the corner, thrusting his arms aloft and letting out a huge scream.
He was just getting started, later helping the Penguins go up 2-0 by feeding Orpik on the point and watching his defenseman rifle a slap shot by Nilsson.
Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said before the game he'd try to monitor Crosby's minutes but knew it would be difficult to keep him off the ice.
Crosby played nearly 16 minutes and for the first time in nearly a year, absorbed a hit at game speed. New York's Travis Hamonic cleanly checked Crosby to the ground during a first-period Pittsburgh power play.
It was the first real test of Crosby's comeback, and he popped up immediately to get back in the play as the Penguins -- and the rest of the hockey world -- exhaled.
His return, however, is a "be careful what you wish for" proposition for the NHL. The Penguins have been solid without him. During his first night back, they were spectacular.
Crosby earned a secondary assist on Malkin's power-play goal early in the second and Malkin later provided a highlight-worthy point of his own, threading a saucer pass to Sullivan as Pittsburgh pushed the lead to 4-0.
Crosby capped his spectacular debut with a backhand that fluttered by Nilsson in the third, turning the last 15 minutes of the game into a celebration worthy of late-spring not the week of Thanksgiving.
NOTES: New York defenseman Mark Eaton left the game with a sprained left MCL and did not return. ... The announced crowd of 18,571 marked the 219th consecutive sellout. ... Pittsburgh's James Neal did not score in a home game for the first time this season.