As if there wasn't enough anticipation surrounding Thursday's Garden matchup between the top two teams in the Eastern Conference, the Rangers battle with the Pittsburgh Penguins will now have the added drama of Sidney Crosby's return after a three-month layoff due to the afteraffects of a concussion.
Crosby, who last played December 5th against Boston, said on Tuesday that he felt symptom-free and healthy enough to face the Rangers this week, and on Wednesday the Penguins' captain confirmed that he will, indeed, play tomorrow in what should be a playoff-like atmosphere at Madison Square Garden.
The Rangers hold a six-point lead over the Penguins, with Pittsburgh holding a game in hand, and riding a season-high nine-game win streak. That those nine straight wins came without the presence of Crosby---arguably the best player in the National Hockey League---makes the Rangers' task the more daunting as Crosby returns Thursday night.
"With or without (Sidney Crsoby) it's going to be a big game," noted Carl Hagelin. "The way we had been playing---with those three straight losses---we just want to focus on playing our game and improving our game no matter who we play. Listen, coming down the stretch it's playoff hockey. You've got to be ready every night."
Like he has against other teams, Crosby has thrived against the Rangers throughout his career. In 38 career matches against the Rangers Crosby has scored 20 goals, notched 34 assists, and totaled 54 points. In his only game against the Rangers this season---a 4-3 home-ice win for the Blueshirts on November 29th---Crosby recorded a pair of primary assists; and in an injury-curtailed season, so far, he has totaled 12 points in 8 games played.
"Like any other great offensive player you have to play (Crosby) tight, can't give him any room out there," noted defenseman Ryan McDonagh. "He's such a great player, and has great vision out on the ice. You also have to be aware of all the other weapons Pittsburgh has. It's not just (Crosby)."
Wednesday morning Rangers captain Ryan Callahan appeared on the Boomer and Carton talk show aired on WFAN and MSG, and the hosts asked him if the Blueshirts would treat Crosby with kid gloves because of his concussion history and the fact that all eyes of the NHL will be tuned in to this game Thursday.
"You have to go right at him," answered Callahan. "A guy like that you can't back off at all. If you give him time or space he'll make you pay. I think it's great for the league he's back, and he's a great ambassador for the game, but we have to play him like we do any superstar and finish our checks on him."
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