By Chris Gordon
On the verge of eliminating the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Washington Capitals from the playoffs, the Pittsburgh Penguins may have two of their top scorers back in the lineup. According to Pens head coach Mike Sullivan, forwards Sidney Crosby and Conor Sheary are game-time decisions for Game Five on Saturday night. This is an upgrade of their status Friday when their head injuries were termed “day-to-day.”
“He’s had a number of really positive days,” Sullivan said of Crosby, who has been skating since Wednesday. “He’s just going through his normal game day routine like he always does.”
Both Crosby and Sheary passed concussion testing on Friday.
Crosby, 29, did not take part in the Penguins optional morning skate at Verizon Center on Tuesday; Sheary did. Crosby joined the Penguins for a full practice on Friday. He fully participated, skating on the first line and taking contact during drills.
Crosby was injured in Game Three on Monday when Matt Niskanen cross-checked him in the face as he was driving to the net. While the hit caused an uproar among Penguins players and fans, Crosby said the play happened too fast for him to judge whether Niskanen was in the wrong. The Penguins captain also said Alex Ovechkin, who slashed him before he went down, was not at fault.
Crosby is a nominee for the 2017 Hart Trophy after scoring 44 goals and picking up 89 points in 75 games. He missed the first part of the season with a concussion. Crosby is believed to have had five head injuries over the course of his NHL career.
Crosby was lighting up the Capitals in the second round of the playoffs before his injury. He had two goals and two assists before leaving Game Three early.
While Crosby stayed off the ice for the morning session on Saturday, Sheary participated in the skate. The Massachusetts native scored 23 goals in 61 games in the regular season. In his 44 previous games NHL games, he had just seven. The young winger was injured when Patric Hornqvist, his teammate, inadvertently checked him as he attempted to crush Caps forward Lars Eller, who slid out of the way.
“I felt good,” Sheary said of the morning skate as a horde of reporters crowded around his stall in the tiny visitors locker room. “We’ll see how the day goes, see how I feel, and go from there.”
Despite popular misconception, there is no minimum time a player must miss after a concussion according to NHL rules. Sullivan said he was not surprised Crosby and Sheary have come around so fast.
“I was around them after the fact,” the coach said. “In my experience of watching players go through it over the years, they’re all unique in their own way. Some recover quicker than others. I don’t claim to know a whole lot about it. That’s why we refer to the people that do. These guys that are monitoring our guys have expertise in the field, they’re great, and we trust them.”
Though a quick return to the lineup after a suffering concussion is possible, at least the NHL has a protocol that players have to go through. Just a few years ago, that wasn’t true.
“Back then they really weren’t monitored like they are today — not even close,” Sullivan said, describing when he was concussed during his playing days.
Full RMNB Coverage of Game Five
Headline photo: Gregory Shamus
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