After 320 days out, following a concussion, Sidney Crosby skated back onto the ice to score twice and assist two in a 5-0 victory over New York Islanders.
Pittsburgh Penguin's perfect pick-up
The sight of Sidney Crosby on the ice was more than enough for fans, but the Pittsburgh Penguins captain gave the excited crowd even more by scoring the opening goal against the New York Islanders in his long-awaited comeback on Monday.
Sidelined for almost 11 months after a concussion, Crosby zipped a backhand past Anders Nilsson, the Islanders goalie, just five minutes into the game, bringing the sold out crowd to its feet.
He later added another goal and two assists as the Penguins cruised to a 5-0 victory.
"He's just a freak of nature," Silvio Andreassi, a 37-year-old fan, said. "He just makes magic happen. You come to expect it from him. He just does it every time."
The build-up in Pittsburgh was palpable on Monday. When Crosby's skates touched the ice, the shrieking crowd greeted him with gold signs that read "Welcome back Sid".
"It's awesome, just awesome," said Jim Runatz, a fan who said he was inspired to play ice hockey by Crosby.
"He represents the working class mentality of this city. All that's good in hockey, comes along with him."
Crosby, arguably the NHL's most popular player, has not played since absorbing two hits to the head in successive games last January and suffering post-concussion symptoms.
He was cleared last month to resume full contact after struggling with headaches all year and has been steadily increasing his physical workload in practice.
Midway through the first period, with Crosby standing near the New York net while the Penguins worked a power play, Travis Hamonic, the New York defenceman sent Crosby tumbling.
The hard shot was the first real test of Crosby's comeback, one even the Penguins star knew could not be duplicated in practice.
And like all the other challenges he has faced the last 10 months, he passed with flying colours.
Crosby quickly bounced back to his feet as the Penguins exhaled.
"I was mad at myself for putting myself in that position," he said.
"I'm glad I kind of got that over with too early on. There's going to be more hits and probably harder ones."
Just not ones more important to a franchise's psyche.
"There was a fair amount of contact out there for him tonight, and he just seemed to thrive on that situation and came away with the puck and skate away," Dan Bylsma, the Pittsburgh coach, said. "After the first time I saw him skate off the ice, I kind of stopped worrying about that situation."
So did Crosby.
Despite all the precautions he has taken during the 320 days since he last played in a game, Crosby knew he could not predict how his body would react.
He knew he did not want to be treated with kid gloves, and Hamonic obliged with a very clean but very direct hit to the chest.
"Did I know who it was? Yeah," Hamonic said. "I thought it was just an opportunity to be hard on someone and, you know, that's all it was and just got caught out there battling."
That was all Crosby and the Penguins could ask for.