Continued from page 2

“You just hope you don’t mess up for him,” Kunitz joked.

Hardly.

Crosby played with the kind of peerless ferocity that’s become his trademark, the kind his teammates have seen enough of since training camp began to think the road back to spectacular play for their leader will be a short one.

“It’s not going to be easy but who knows, he can make it look easy,” Staal said. “You can’t really do it unless you go through it, but he’s talented enough that he can do some great things.”

And do them in bunches. Crosby was on his way to capturing his second MVP award when he was injured.

It all changed on Jan. 6 when he was diagnosed with concussion-like symptoms that he later described as “fogginess.”

He unwittingly became a case study for the effects of head shots on the game and led the NHL to crack down on such plays.

If it helps make the sport he loves safer, Crosby is all for it. That’s not why he came back, however. He wanted to play, not make a statement.

“I’ve been working hard the last couple months to make sure when it’s time to come back, I’m ready,” Crosby said. “Do I expect to be where I was in January last year? Probably not, but I expect to contribute.”

Even if his teammates and the entire hockey world held their breath the first time he got knocked around.

“That’s just normal to be like that,” Neal said. “The first hit is always like that. Hopefully he’s good to go and I’m sure he will be. He’s so quick and so fast and agile it’s tough to hit him.”

Yet Crosby knows he will get hit again. He welcomes it. He doesn’t want to get treated as if he’s in bubble wrap. He just wants to get after it.

“It’s a relief to be back but it’s not time to start gliding now,” Crosby said. “It’s time to get going.”