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Sidney Crosby set to return to Penguins on Thursday night against Islanders

PITTSBURGH - Sidney Crosby, sidelined for 28 of the Pittsburgh Penguins' past 31 games with a sprained right ankle, went through an optional practice Wednesday without problems and plans to play Thursday night against the New York Islanders.

Crosby, who has missed the Penguins' past seven games, accompanied the team on a two-game road trip Monday and Tuesday, but did not play in either game. The Penguins lost to the Islanders 4-1 on Monday and clinched a playoff spot after beating the Devils 2-0 on Tuesday.

Crosby was hurt Jan. 18 against Tampa Bay and didn't play again until facing the Lightning on March 4. He played three games that week, but hasn't played since scoring two goals against the Capitals on March 9.

"I feel strong. I feel a lot better than I did coming back the first time, a lot more confident," Crosby said Wednesday.

When he plays Thursday, Crosby will centre a line that includes Marian Hossa, the forward acquired from Atlanta at the trading deadline last month. Hossa was out with a knee injury when Crosby made his brief return earlier this month.

Crosby, last season's NHL scoring champion, was leading the league in scoring when he was hurt in January. He had two goals and two assists in his three games earlier this month, before the ankle began bothering him again.

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