PITTSBURGH – The Tampa Bay Lightning kick off their Eastern Conference Finals series with the Boston Bruins tomorrow night after a nine-day layoff.
For the Pittsburgh Penguins, the ease at which the Lightning dispatched the Washington Capitals has to make their thoughts of ‘what if?’ intensify.
The Penguins held a 3-1 series lead over Tampa Bay before Guy Boucher’s squad stormed back into the series and finished off the Penguins with a 1-0 victory in Game 7.
What if the Penguins had gotten past the Lightning?
What if Evgeni Malkin really was able to return in the Conference Finals?
What if the suspended Matt Cooke would’ve improved the Penguins’ dreadful 70.4 percent penalty-kill success rate in the playoffs? (Pittsburgh led the NHL in penalty killing at 86.1 percent during the regular season)
What if Sidney Crosby was able to contribute just one or two goals in that decisive Game 7?
Crosby’s season was one of extreme highs and devastating lows.
From November 5 to December 28, no official scoresheet was missing his name. Crosby scored an unbelievable 50 points over a 25-game stretch and tightened his grip on the distinction as best hockey player in the world.
But after January 6, no official lineup card contained his name. Crosby missed the rest of the regular season and the playoffs with concussion(s) symptoms and an April push to get back into the lineup failed when intense workouts led to headaches.
Malkin and Cooke figure to be ready when the Penguins break training camp in September, but it’s impossible to predict when (or if) Sidney Crosby will ever return to the ice.
Yesterday, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that Crosby has yet to start his offseason rehab:
Penguins center Sidney Crosby, who two weeks ago revealed he had had a setback in his recovery from a concussion, has not begun an offseason workout program.
Crosby’s agent, Pat Brisson, said Thursday that Crosby “hasn’t been cleared yet by the medical staff” and is primarily resting at this stage as with most players not involved in the playoffs, but he has engaged in some light activity.
Warning sirens have gone off across North America as media and fans begin to wonder whether the idle status could put Crosby’s 2011-12 season in jeopardy.
But if Crosby’s comments to reporters two weeks ago are any indication, the lack of activity shouldn’t be a concern at this point.
“I don’t really have a concrete time,” Crosby said when asked when he planned to resume workouts. “I’ve got to wait until I feel a bit better until I can really start doing anything. Hopefully it’s not too long, but as long as it takes to feel better and start heading in the right direction.”
Crosby went on to say that after getting so close to a return in the playoffs only to suffer a frustrating setback, he’s decided not to rush his rehab in the offseason.
“Just having gone through that, you don’t want to go through that again,” he said. “That won’t happen. I just want to make sure that when I do start working out again I won’t have to deal with symptoms. I’d rather wait that extra bit of time to make sure that I’m ready.”
Assuming Crosby’s status has not changed significantly in the past two weeks, the report from the Post-Gazette and Brisson’s comments should not be too alarming.
With all the pressure surrounding his attempted – and failed – comeback, taking a mental and physical break makes sense for Crosby at this point.
The Penguins quick playoff exit leaves him with five months until training camp and GM Ray Shero said that’s a bright spot for his conscience:
I think the great thing with Sid now is that he’s got time on his hands. He has made significant progress. This is an injury, as we’ve all said from day one, where he’s not going to come back until he’s 100 percent. He had made lots of progress, but he wasn’t there. He looked fantastic skating which was great news, but this is an injury where when you do have something, whether it’s fogginess at times or whatever, you have to step back a little bit.
I think the great news is that he’s got all kinds of time on his side right now. Dr. Collins [at UPMC] expects a full recovery. It’s just a matter of time, as we know with these injuries, so that’s the good news. I’m not concerned about it. With the season ending, it’s disappointing, but from Sid’s standpoint, the pressure of the questions ‘Is he going to come back? When will he come back?’ goes away and now he can get back to just healing and feeling good about himself and taking his time.
Last month’s initial setback was certainly something to be concerned about given the fact it took place over three months after Crosby was injured. Boston’s Patrice Bergeron, who recently suffered another concussion, has shown that risk of another concussion for Crosby might never go away.
But Crosby also echoed Shero’s sentiments and said that, barring another unforeseen setback, he has no worries about his ability to play next year.
“It’s been really slow, but I’m not worried. I feel like, from where I was a couple months ago, things were a lot better. Just being able to skate was encouraging. Hopefully, the next step doesn’t have any hurdles and I can get ready for next season as usual.”
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