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Crosby returns tonight

TAMPA -- The Penguins' worst nightmare is over.

Captain Sidney Crosby will play against the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight (7:30 p.m.) at the St. Pete Times Forum. He had missed 21 consecutive games with a high right ankle sprain.

"It's been a while, so I'm looking forward to it," Crosby said. "I wasn't expecting anything. I was skating (in Pittsburgh) last week and it started to feel better. It's pretty strong right now. I figure it's time."

Coach Michel Therrien said the return of Crosby was "great news."

"We didn't want to put any pressure on him," Therrien said. "He was going to make the call.

"We'll manage his ice time. He said he was feeling great, but he hasn't played for a long time so he is going to trust me and the way I will manage him on the ice."

Crosby will start the game tonight on a line with forwards Maxime Talbot and Pascal Dupuis.

The Penguins were 11-6-4 without Crosby, who was injured after sliding legs first into the south end-zone boards at Mellon Arena during the first period of a game against Tampa Bay on Jan. 18.

Crosby was tied for the league lead in scoring at the time of his injury. He has scored 20 goals and recorded 63 points -- good for 22nd.

The Penguins entered today tied for first-place in the Eastern Conference with 81 points.

The return of Crosby, the reigning scoring champion and league MVP, overshadows the comeback of defenseman Ryan Whitney, who missed two previous games with a groin injury.

With Crosby and Whitney back in the lineup, the Penguins have reassigned forward Connor James and defenseman Alex Goligoski to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL.

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