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Penguins' Crosby again cleared for contact

Chris Harlan
| Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A week after the trade deadline, the Penguins are close to securing the blockbuster addition they wanted all along.

Sidney Crosby said Tuesday that he's free of concussion symptoms and could rejoin the lineup within days. He was cleared Tuesday for contact by team physician Dr. Charles Burke and took a number of "bumps" in practice.

If Crosby remains symptom free, he will return shortly — maybe as soon as Sunday afternoon's nationally televised game with Boston.

"I'm going to give myself days, for sure, of contact," Crosby said. "If you look at our schedule, we have two more practices this week. (A return would be) no sooner than Sunday, I would say."

But Crosby did not commit to a Sunday return.

"I'm not going to sit here and put a date on it," he said. "It would be total guesswork. I just want to make sure I get through these days fine. That will be a great decision to have to make. I hope I get to that point."

Crosby has played in just eight NHL games dating to Jan. 6, 2011, when he was diagnosed with a concussion. He has not played this season since Dec. 5, and he had symptoms that included headaches and balance difficulties.

Crosby said he has been "symptom free for a few days." His balance issues were already resolved, but the headaches persisted until now.

The team has home games Wednesday night, Friday and Sunday, with practices scheduled for Thursday and Saturday. Coach Dan Bylsma said Crosby's level of contact will increase.

"Today wasn't extensive in terms of getting a lot of contact," Bylsma said. "We'll see how the next days go before we decide on when there might be a (return) date."

As of last week the Penguins' upper brass had grown more optimistic of Crosby's possible return, based on his improved recovery and increased workload capacity.

The Penguins, winners of six straight, have managed to remain among the NHL's top teams despite the absence of Crosby, their captain. They are fourth in the Eastern Conference, a slot that would earn them home-ice advantage in Round 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The Penguins also finished fourth in the East last season, which they completed without Crosby and fellow former scoring champion Evgeni Malkin.

General manager Ray Shero did not make a move at the trade deadline because he and other team officials were optimistic of Crosby's return to play before the postseason.

Players such as defenseman Brook Orpik had said that no move by the Penguins could top the addition of Crosby, who before his first diagnosed concussion 14 months ago was the NHL leader in goals and points and widely considered to be the best player in the league.

Crosby has been deeply engaged in on-ice workouts for the past month, with his recent session topping an hour. Though he did not face contact, Crosby skated in those sessions with great speed and showed no signs of any lingering concussion symptoms.

Crosby teammates Tuesday welcomed the end of his 92-day layoff from contact.

"As soon as they knew I could get hit, I was getting a lot of bumps out there," Crosby said with a smile, but he added that there's no way to simulate hits taken in a game.

"The only way you can adapt to (game situations) is to be in games," he said. "You can do as much practicing as you want. I've pushed myself as hard as I can, practice-wise. The contact is the big step, and making sure I get through that symptom free. Once I can do that for a few days, I'm just going to jump into games — the sooner the better."

He is known to have seen nine concussion experts during his yearlong treatment. He has sought outside opinions from a chiropractor, nutritionist and several orthopedic surgeons. Most recently, he has been treated for soft tissue damage near his uppermost vertebrae — a medical condition that he and the Penguins were optimistic might have caused some of his concussion symptoms. Addressing that neck injury diagnosed in late January has been productive, he said, including the treatment of tight muscles.

"Was it everything• I don't know," Crosby said, "but it certainly helped."

Sidney Crosby injury timeline

Jan. 1, 2011: A blindside hit from Washington's David Steckel leaves Crosby dazed, but he finishes the Winter Classic game at Heinz Field.

Jan. 5, 2011: In the Penguins' next game Crosby is driven from behind into the boards at Consol Energy Center by Tampa Bay's Victor Hedman. Crosby remains in the game and accompanies the team on a post-game flight to Montreal.

Jan. 6, 2011: After awaking in Montreal with symptoms (headache, nausea, disorientation and neck soreness), Crosby returns to Pittsburgh and is diagnosed with a concussion.

March 14, 2011: Crosby skates for first time since receiving the concussion, lightly working out at Consol Energy Center.

March 31, 2011: He resumes on-ice practices with Penguins at Tampa Bay, but is not cleared for contact participation.

April 20. 2011: Crosby abruptly stops skating before Game 4 of the first round series against Tampa Bay.

April 29, 2011: Crosby admits following the Penguins' Game 7 loss against the Lightning that he may have sustained two concussions in January.

June 2, 2011: He is cleared by Michael Collins, a clinical neuropsychologist with UPMC who heads his concussion team, for regular offseason workouts, but not contract.

July 15, 2011: Penguins GM Ray Shero said Crosby had resumed regular offseason workouts, but that Crosby was not cleared for contact. Shero called Crosby's playoff shutdown a "step back, not a setback."

Aug. 14, 2011: Amid Internet buzz that Crosby had experienced a setback, Shero said Crosby had experienced a reoccurrence of concussion symptoms but that he has not been shutdown from off-season training.

Aug. 24, 2011: The Penguins release a statement that says Crosby, with team approval, had sought alternate opinions from concussion experts in Michigan and Georgia because he had experienced headaches after conducting on-ice workouts at "90 percent exertion."

Sept. 7, 2011: Crosby updated his status at a news conference that also includes Shero, Collins and Ted Carrick, a Florida-based chiropractor who specializes in neurological treatment. Crosby said he would "likely" play this NHL season.

Sept. 16, 2011: Crosby said he was cleared for non-contact participation in training-camp practices. Carrick tells WDVE-FM (102.5) that Crosby is "as ready (for physical contact) as just about any player in the league."

Nov. 20, 2011: The Penguins announce that Crosby will return to action the following day.

Nov. 21, 2011: Crosby produces four points in his first game in almost 11 months as the Penguins beat the Islanders, 5-0.

Dec. 5, 2011: Crosby is held without a point against the physical Bruins in a 3-1 loss.

Dec. 6, 2011: Crosby does not partake in an optional practice.

Dec. 7, 2011: Crosby practices and says he will play against the Flyers.

Dec. 7, 2011: The Penguins land in Philadelphia, then release a statement that Crosby won't play in the upcoming two games.

Dec. 12, 2011: Crosby says he is dealing with "concussion symptoms" and is ruled out indefinitely.

Dec. 16, 2011: General manager Ray Shero tells the Tribune-Review that Crosby's health will not stop the team's desire to sign him to a new contract in the summer of 2012.

Dec. 17, 2011: The Penguins place Crosby on injured reserve so that another roster spot becomes available.

Jan. 13: Crosby skates with teammates for first time in more than a month, and is welcomed by Penguins players wearing "C's" on their sweaters.

Feb. 17: Crosby meets with reporters at Southpointe and says he is still dealing with minor headaches, but that issues with balance have subsided.

March 3: Crosby skates himself to exhaustion in the high altitude in Denver, resting on his knees for a couple of minutes following a brutal 90-minute workout.

March 6: Crosby says he has been cleared for contact and said he could return to action within a week.

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