TORONTO – One day later, it remained the comeback heard around the hockey world.
Sidney Crosby’s sensational four-point effort Monday night remained a talking point in NHL dressing rooms the following morning. For most, it felt like the Pittsburgh Penguins superstar was never gone.
“It’s a great performance,” Senators defenceman Sergei Gonchar, a former Crosby teammate, said Tuesday. “Nine months off and then you come back and get four points. Sid is Sid. It’s kind of abnormal for everybody else, but for him it’s normal. He’s coming back and playing like he never missed a step.
“I’ve never seen a superstar working as hard as he is.”
Crosby missed over 10 months due to concussion-like symptoms. He was the dominant player on the ice in his first game since Jan. 5, scoring two goals and adding two assists in a 5-0 victory over the Islanders.
It was a comeback that proved worthy of all the hype and anticipation.
“All of my buddies and friends and family were almost in disbelief,” said Penguins forward Steve Sullivan. “It was that big a moment.”
Added coach Dan Bylsma: “I’m not sure you can draw up the dramatic fashion in which the game unfolded, but him stepping back on the ice, the embrace from the fans, the energy in the building and what happened on the ice were special. It’s really a unique game and a unique setting.”
Crosby’s peers immediately took to Twitter to marvel at the eye-popping performance.
“Saying #87 makes it look easy is an understatement,” tweeted San Jose Sharks forward Logan Couture.
“What a player,” tweeted Toronto centre Tyler Bozak. “It was great for the game of hockey to have him back on the ice putting on a show again.”
The Penguins captain registered a game-high eight shots on net and easily could have had an even bigger night. That was a big statement in itself.
“How long before Crosby is leading the league in points?” tweeted Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick, echoing the thoughts of many.
For the record, Crosby was 25 points behind Maple Leafs forward Phil Kessel on Tuesday morning. The Penguins have 61 games remaining in the regular season.
“Only four points for the sid tonight,” tweeted Chicago Blackhawks forward Viktor Stalberg. “He should only be allowed to play half the season #keepitfair.”
Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke joined Twitter over the weekend and wished Crosby well in one of his first posts.
“It’s significant when any League’s top player returns to action,” he said. “Welcome back Sid. Good luck as you get underway.”
The eyes of the entire hockey world all seemed to be fixed on Consol Energy Center, turning an otherwise routine November regular-season game into an event.
“It was pretty amazing,” said Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson. “It’s not easy to come back like that and he knows he has all the hockey eyes in the world on him. And then winning the game and the way he played, it looked like he hasn’t missed a beat.”
Crosby’s comeback crossed sports lines, as well.
“I still can’t put into words how HAPPY I am for Sidney Crosby. I watched the highlights and get choked up,” said former MLS star Taylor Twellman, who was forced to retire because of concussion-related problems.
Added Pittsburgh Steelers defensive back Ike Taylor: “Don’t (know) too much about hockey But betcha SID the KID can iceskate on WATER.”
The evening offered a chance for some humour as well. Winnipeg Jets forward Blake Wheeler jokingly asked if No. 87 for the Penguins was a recent callup while NHL Twitter king Paul Bissonnette of the Phoenix Coyotes lamented that Crosby had already tied him in game-winning goals with one.
Injured Edmonton Oilers defenceman Ryan Whitney spent parts of four seasons playing with Crosby in Pittsburgh. After watching him open the scoring with a powerful rush and well-placed backhand, he translated the significance of the move into quote form.
“‘Yup, this leagues still a joke for me.’ – Sidney Crosby 4 minutes into first game back.”
Once the final horn sounded on Crosby’s return, San Jose Sharks forward Ryane Clowe nicely summed up what everyone else was thinking: “That #87 is a pretty good player.”
In Pittsburgh, at least one columnist was thinking Stanley Cup.
“Shame on me for looking so far ahead. It’s November 22. There still is much hockey to play, 61 regular-season games before the playoffs. A lot can happen. Heaven knows injuries can happen. I realize all of that,” wrote Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
“But if you watched Crosby and the Penguins blow away the Islanders, 5-0, how could you not at least be tempted to look ahead? How could you not begin to formulate a picture in your mind of Crosby holding up the Stanley Cup on Consol Energy Center ice?
“I pictured it quite clearly, actually.”
With files from Lisa Wallace in Ottawa and Alan Robinson in Pittsburgh.