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Pittsburgh Penguins centre Sidney Crosby smiles during practice in Montreal, Feb. 7, 2012. (Christinne Muschi/Reuters/Christinne Muschi/Reuters)
Pittsburgh Penguins centre Sidney Crosby smiles during practice in Montreal, Feb. 7, 2012. (Christinne Muschi/Reuters/Christinne Muschi/Reuters)

Penguins to ease Crosby back into lineup Add to ...

As the NHL trade deadline loomed last month, Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Ray Shero sat down with centre Sidney Crosby – and told his injured captain a lie.

“I said to him, ‘There might be a move out there that, salary cap-wise, will take you out of the lineup this year, you know, you can only come back in the playoffs,’ ” Shero said outside a meeting of the league’s GMs in Florida.

“I didn’t have that deal, but I just wanted to test him, see what he said. He just said ‘I’m not doing all this, working this hard, not to come back, you know.’ I’m like, yeah, okay, I got you.”

The simple truth is the Penguins were hopeful all along that Crosby, who has played only eight games since suffering a concussion in January of 2011, could come back before the 2012 postseason.

Hope is now reality: Crosby will play in New York on Thursday against the first-place Rangers.

His return also means the Pens, who have won nine games in a row, must once again be placed among the odds-on favourites to hoist the Stanley Cup.

How could they be described as anything else with Canada’s Olympic hockey hero as the third-line centre?

Crosby’s failed comeback attempt last year has understandably left a mark – he torched the New York Islanders for two goals and two assists on Nov. 21, but was sidelined on Dec. 5 with a recurrence of concussion symptoms – and so the Pens are determined to ease him into the fray.

That means he’ll be playing between checkers Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy, as head coach Dan Bylsma told the team’s website: “I’ve always told him he could be a Selke [Trophy]winner [for top defensive forward] He’s going to have his chance here.”

Bylsma said the efforts to manage the 24-year-old Nova Scotian’s ice time could also see him shifted to the wing alongside Jordan Staal, and he will also take up new power-play duties – on the point.

“It is a different spot for me,” Crosby said. “I played there in juniors so it’s been a few years since I’ve been back there. I like it. I’m able to see a lot of the ice and have [NHL leading scorer Evgeni Malkin]with the big shot on the sidewall.”

Bylsma said the initial plan is to limit the centre to 15 minutes a game, although he acknowledged that “you don’t pace Sidney Crosby.”

During his most recent three-month layoff, Crosby was diagnosed with a soft-tissue injury in his neck, and said treatment of the problem has helped get him back on skates.

He also said he’s more comfortable returning to action this time around.

“I probably feel a little bit better just knowing what to expect,” Crosby said. “I think it’s easier going through it this time … that first game [last November]was pretty overwhelming. It was a lot of fun, but that being said I’ll take it more in stride this time.”

He could potentially play 14 before the playoffs begin, although Crosby’s planning on taking the conservative approach at first.

“We’ll make sure I get better every game, but I’ll pace myself a bit with the schedule,” he said.

With a report from The Canadian Press

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