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“He’s excited and anxious,” Bylsma said.

So are the Penguins, who have been good without Crosby. His job is to make them great.

Bylsma said Sunday he will pair Crosby with Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz. How many shifts Crosby will see is unclear, though Byslma said it’s highly unlikely he’d throw Crosby out there for 20-plus minutes.

Not that it matters. Not this week anyway. His return will start with a three-game homestand that will generate the kind of buzz normally reserved for late spring.

“We know what he means to this team, this city,” defenseman Kris Letang said. “He’s a special player.”

One that spent months dealing with “fogginess” that at times made it difficult for him to drive or watch television. He also endured painful migraines and likened the recovery process to a roller coaster.

The ride appears to be finally pulling into the station, sending Crosby out into the great unknown.

For all the steps he’s taken during his recovery, the real test will come when he gets hit for the first time at full speed. Though the nature of the game may be changing thanks in part to Crosby’s ordeal.

New discipline czar Brendan Shanahan, only three years removed from his playing days, has been suspending players for taking unnecessary head shots at opponents. It’s a movement Crosby embraces.

“A guy’s got to be responsible with his stick, why shouldn’t he be responsible with the rest of his body when he’s going to hit someone?” Crosby said. “Whether it’s accidental or not accidental, you’ve got to be responsible out there.”

He hasn’t backed down during practice, often being one of the last to leave the ice before heading to the dressing room.

The Penguins have raved about Crosby’s intensity during even the more informal skates. While he’s looked perfectly fine to the naked eye, Crosby wouldn’t allow himself to come back until he was at full strength.

“Maybe I can get by with 90 percent, maybe I couldn’t but I’m not going to roll the dice with that,” Crosby said in September.

When he finally glides onto the ice in his No. 87 jersey, Crosby will put to rest speculation his career was over. His teammates, who did their best to give Crosby distance over the summer, never doubted he would return.

“I figured he was getting enough of it from everywhere else,” teammate Jordan Staal said. “All that matters to us really is that he’s healthy. All that stuff you thought you heard, I didn’t pay any attention to it.”

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