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Crosby, Letang good to go for Penguins; Lundqvist out

NEW YORK — Finally, all Sidney Crosby has to worry about is the game.

Crosby was bombarded by dozens of reporters at Madison Square Garden this afternoon only hours before he returns to the Penguins' lineup, but handled the attention in his typical, laid back manner.

He expressed little concern about putting his health at risk by returning to hockey following 15 months that have seen him deal with concussion symptoms. Crosby simply said he is prepared to face the Rangers tonight and happy to have been cleared to play the sport he has dominated.

"I'm just excited to be back," Crosby said.

When he made his previous return from a concussion — a four-point night in a 5-0 win against the New York Islanders — Crosby dominated immediately.

"That's probably not fair to expect of him," defenseman Zbynek Michalek said. "But then, it's Sid."

Crosby insists he isn't going to focus on his eight-game stint that resulted in another setback.

This is a new comeback.

"I'm not trying to compare one to the other," Crosby said. "It was an emotional game. That was a fun game."

The Rangers (44-18-7) sit atop the Eastern Conference with 95 points, but have lost their past two against the Penguins. They vowed to treat Crosby as though he were any other opponent.

"If he goes untouched then we've failed miserably," Rangers forward Mike Rupp said. "That goes for anybody. It's not a microscope on him. That's our bread and butter — our physical play. It's one of our better assets."

Rupp and the Rangers will have to contend with another returning skilled opponent, Penguins defenseman Kris Letang. He has missed the past five games because of concussion symptoms, though he was he was never diagnosed with a second concussion on the season.

Letang has not played since Feb. 29 at Dallas, a game he did not finish after absorbing a hard hit from Stars winger Eric Nystrom.

"I was scared a little bit during that game, but looking back at it the symptoms were not that bad and the rehabilitation was easier," Letang said, adding that his brief symptoms included nausea and dizziness.

The Penguins (42-21-5, 89 points) have won nine consecutive games, and defenseman Brooks Orpik described this contest and their next two — Saturday at New Jersey, Sunday at Philadelphia — as a "measuring stick."

"It just happens that all these teams in our division are this good this year," he said. "Philly is always our rival. The Rangers are at the top. Jersey might be playing as well as anybody right now. It's three big games, so getting (Crosby and Letang) back will be a big help for us. I think everybody realizes the situation.

"Everyone is so tight here, maybe we can create a little separation (in the standings), too."

Also, the Rangers will be without their star. Goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who is center Evgeni Malkin's chief rival for the Hart Trophy this season, will not start tonight. Lundqvist has been battling the flu for the past three days. Although he felt well enough to practice this morning, Lundqvist said being in bed for the previous two days sapped him of energy and that it wouldn't be prudent for him to start tonight.

Instead, veteran goalie Martin Biron will start for the Rangers.

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