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Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby. (AP File Photo/Alan Diaz) (Alan Diaz/AP)
Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby. (AP File Photo/Alan Diaz) (Alan Diaz/AP)

ROY MacGREGOR

Sidney Crosby, Tiger Woods grapple with glass jaws Add to ...

The comparison will draw laughter; so be it.

Tiger Woods, after all, is 36, Sidney Crosby 24. They come from different countries on opposite sides of the continent: Woods from Cypress, Calif., Crosby from Cole Harbour, N.S. Woods plays a warm-weather sport that is the most individual of games, Crosby a cold-weather game that may be the most team-based of all. Crosby's private life is his own business, Woods's has been the world's.

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And yet ... both, at their peak, have shown an ability to dominate his game as perhaps no other ever has, both became the face of his sport at a time when the sporting world was exploding, both drive the television ratings, both have shown a remarkable, almost otherworldly ability to succeed when the pressure is greatest.

And both may suffer from their own version of what used to be called, in a time when the sporting world knew little about the long-term effects of any injury short of death, glass jaws.

Tiger Woods limped off Miami's Doral golf course on Sunday afternoon after only 11 holes in the final round of the Cadillac Championship. He had, in fact, started the 12th hole – smashing a 320-yard drive that ordinary humans can only dream about – when he suddenly quit. Something was wrong in his oft-troubled left leg – “tightness in my Achilles heel,” he said in a statement – and, if so, it is a similar injury to one he suffered a year ago at the Masters, a lingering problem that saw him miss the U.S. Open and the British Open. It is not known yet whether the four-time Masters champion will be at Augusta National three weeks from now, but he said late Monday that it was a "minor strain" and he would be able to resume practice soon.

It was impossible to know what had caused this hopefully minor setback – a long iron struck from the rough in an earlier hole? A difficult sand shot? Whatever it was, it had seemed relatively insignificant at the time. He merely changed his shoes, thinking that would remedy matters.

Sidney Crosby was on his way to his greatest season in 2010-11. At the halfway point, he already had 66 points. But he was unable to play a single game in the second half after suffering a concussion from two successive hits, one a clip to the side of his head in the Jan. 1 Winter Classic, the second a crunching check into the boards on Jan. 5.

In the 2011-12 season Crosby eventually came back, but played only eight games before a seemingly harmless brush-up along the boards and/or an accidental collision with a teammate during a Dec. 5 match with the Boston Bruins brought the concussion symptoms roaring back. The Penguins announced he would sit out “the next two games as a precaution.” He has not played since.

But now it appears as if The Comeback, Part II, may be on for Thursday night in New York, the biggest U.S. stage for the biggest story in hockey.

The Rangers are the top team in the Eastern Conference and want to remain so for home-ice advantage in the playoffs. Crosby, for his part, says he prefers “a bigger game” in which to test himself. “This isn't the time to kind of just go out there and feel your way around,” he said this weekend.

In fact, the Rangers game is but one “bigger game” in the 14 the Pittsburgh Penguins have remaining in the regular season. They play the Philadelphia Flyers three times, New Jersey Devils twice, Rangers twice, the Boston Bruins, Winnipeg Jets, Ottawa Senators, Nashville Predators, and Buffalo Sabres – all teams either desperately fighting to make the playoffs or determined to hold on to their privileged position.

That's 12 out of 14 games that could be, and will be, described as “big.”

The only “smaller” games are a home-and-home series against the New York Islanders at the end of the month.

These 14 games are not the eight games Sidney Crosby played in the late fall before a couple of minor hits brought back the concussion symptoms.

Not only will they be, for the most part, hard fought and physical, but surely Sidney Crosby and the Penguins have noticed, as all are noticing, that the officiating in March has become disturbingly more lax than it was at the start of this season.

Not only that, but the Pittsburgh Penguins really have no need of Sidney Crosby's talents at the moment. The Penguins defeated Boston Sunday for their ninth-consecutive win, the second-longest in the NHL this season. Evgeni Malkin has the scoring lead and is likely to win the league's Hart Trophy. Goaltender Marc-André Fleury appears to have found his Stanley-Cup winning form.

So why chance it? Why not cancel the season entirely, wait longer and come back in the fall, if it makes sense, when games are less physical and important and when Sidney Crosby would be in exactly the same game-shape as everyone else.

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