PITTSBURGH -- For Sidney Crosby, 320 days seemed like a lifetime. But his return to hockey after a lengthy absence with a concussion was worth the wait.
You could see what it meant to him to be back with his emotional outpouring after he scored the Penguins' first goal in a 5-0 win against the lowly New York Islanders on Monday.
It was Crosby's third shift of the game. After he deposited his dangerous backhand behind Islanders rookie goalie Anders Nilsson, Crosby did a double-arm pump and yelled "f--- yeah."
"I was obviously really excited," Crosby said after his remarkable two-goal, two-assist performance. "Part of waiting to play is you're waiting to get that first one. It came pretty early.
"I was watching the replay and reading my lips. Hopefully, everyone wasn't reading lips at home. It was pretty exciting and I couldn't hold that in."
Everything went right for Crosby and really we shouldn't be surprised. He's provided so many memorable moments since he burst on the scene to play for Canada at the 2004 world juniors as a 16-year-old.
There was the world junior title, the NHL scoring championship, the MVP season, the Stanley Cup, the shootout goal in the first Outdoor Classic and the golden goal for Canada at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
Then, on Monday night, in front of a crowd that produced a playoff atmosphere, Crosby produced four points in 15 minutes 54 seconds of ice time. He had 15 scoring chances, eight shots on goal and won 14 of 21 faceoffs, including the opening faceoff.
He battled Islanders centre John Tavares for that opening draw like it was overtime in the seventh and deciding game of the Stanley Cup final.
"The goals and assists were great, but just being out there ... I can't describe it," Crosby said. "It was really the joy of playing. I really missed it.
"Of all the games I've played, this was the easiest one to prepare for because it seemed like I was waiting for a long time. I'm happy it well."
It was reminiscent of Mario Lemieux's comeback game 11 years ago. Crosby recalled earlier in the day how that game -- also a 5-0 win against Toronto on Dec. 27, 2000 -- was his first memory of the Penguins as a kid.
He remembered that Lemieux set up a goal 33 seconds in. He remembered the excitement of the moment. The Magnificent One wound up with a goal and two assists in his first game after retiring 3½ years earlier because of back problems and a successful battle against Hodgkin's disease that drained him.
Crosby didn't seek any advice from Lemieux for this comeback. He didn't need to. It was apparent in the morning that Crosby wasn't going to get caught up in the hoopla. He was already in game mode.
"It was pretty special what he did tonight," Penguins defenceman Kris Letang said. "His speed is back, obviously. He came back strong and he came back at 100 per cent."
Crosby took a hit from Islanders defenceman Travis Hamonic on the first shift. After that, all the worries subsided.
Crosby later burned Hamonic to set up Penguins defenceman Brooks Orpik for the second goal of the game.
"He's lacing them up just like anyone else," Hamonic said. "At the end of the day, yeah, he's a really good hockey player. But you're not going to take it easy on a guy just because he's a really good hockey player. You know, I think he expects guys to be hard on him. Like I said, I expected myself in that situation to be hard."
Everything went right for Crosby.
Even afterwards, he sent one of the Penguins equipment guys to lasso the game puck to honour goalie Marc-Andre Fleury's 21st NHL shutout. But Islanders backup Rick DiPietro got to the puck first. He wanted it as a keepsake for Nilsson and his first NHL start. Eventually, Letang and Crosby convinced DiPietro to give up the puck in exchange for another.
Now it's on to Game 2 against Crosby's friend Ken Hitchcock and the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday. Hitchcock was an assistant coach with the Canadian Olympic team.
The outstanding first game back has people wondering what's in store. Lemieux won the 1992-93 scoring title after taking some time off for his cancer treatment. He checked in with an incredible 160 points in 60 games.
What will Crosby accomplish in 62 games if he stays healthy? He's already 365th in league scoring after a game and tied with Toronto Maple Leafs forward David Steckel who, when with the Washington Capitals, caught Crosby last New Year's Day with an accidental open-ice headshot that sent this entire episode into gear.
"What's the race at right now?" asked Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, who had to remind Crosby to keep his shifts short. Bylsma was informed that Maple Leafs sniper Phil Kessel has a 25-point lead right now.
"I'm not going to make any predictions right now," Bylsma said. "We have 61 games left and his pace is pretty good right now."
Do you have improvements to suggest for this page?