Sidney Crosby cleared for contact

Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby appears to be symptom free and ready to make his long-awaited return to the ice for the second time this season.

Doctors gave Crosby the go-ahead to participate in contact drills with the rest of his teammates this afternoon after nearly three months on the shelf with concussion-like symptoms. This is the first time Crosby has participated in a full-contact practice with his teammates since getting sidelined indefinitely with concussion-like symptoms back in December.

“Contact is the big step,” Crosby said following his first contact-permitted practice since Dec. 7. “It’s nice to be symptom-free, but it’s not as fulfilling as when you’re out there (playing). I just want to make sure that I take the right steps here and get back out there soon.”

Crosby has been dealing with concussion-like symptoms on and off since Jan. 2011. He initially returned from a concussion on Nov. 21, 2011, where he scored two goals and added two assists in his first game in nearly 11 months. However, Crosby was again sidelined shortly after his return with concussion-like symptoms again and hasn’t played or participated in a full practice since Dec. 7, 2011.

It was later revealed by neck specialists that Crosby suffered a soft-tissue in his neck in addition to the original concussion he suffered in January.

“There were a lot of bumps. As soon as they knew I could get contact, I was getting a lot of bumps, even in drills,” Crosby said. “The lineup was a dangerous place to be today. It was fun to be out there with them and hopefully it’s a regular occurrence.”

The Penguins won’t comment on an exact return date, although the team, and Crosby himself, left the possibility open for returning this Sunday against the Boston Bruins.

“No sooner than Sunday, I would say, but I’m not going to sit here and put a date on it,” said Crosby, who expects to take part in game-day morning skates Wednesday and Friday and full practices Thursday and Saturday. “It would be total guesswork. I just want to make sure I get through these days fine.”

The Penguins certainly won’t rush Crosby’s return. The team sits comfortably in fourth place in the Eastern Conference with 83 points, four more than the fifth place Philadelphia Flyers. Evgeni Malkin has taken the reins in Crosby absence, leading the team with 38 goals and 81 points on the season, allowing the team to keep Crosby away from game action until they are certain his body can sustain the rigor of an NHL game.

“Today wasn’t extensive in terms of getting a lot of contact. He had some extra drills after practice with some contact,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. “We’ll see over the next few days before we decided on when there might be a date.”

The Penguins would love to get Crosby in the lineup soon, though, and get him up to speed in some regular season games before the playoffs roll around in the second week in April. Pittsburgh has 17 regular season games remaining, but if Crosby’s first return to action back in November is any indication of how long it will take him to readjust to the speed of the game, it shouldn’t take long at all. After all, with 12 points in eight games earlier this year, Crosby still leads the league in points per game – followed closely behind by Malkin. What a dangerous team the Penguins could be if Crosby comes back healthy and strong for the playoffs.

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