Sidney Crosby overcomes major hurdles for 3rd Stanley Cup Final appearance
Penguins star missed over 100 games due to concussion issues
There was a time when it was unclear if Sidney Crosby would ever play again, let alone reach another Stanley Cup Final.
For more than a year, from January 2011 until March 2012, the effects of a concussion cast doubts over the health and future of the most talented Canadian hockey player. Would Crosby ever play again? Should he ever play again? Was he capable of ascending back to the heights of the sport?
Chris Kunitz remembers the fear he felt almost running into his teammate on the ice during his long road back from those concussion issues.
"You're unsure. When [you were] on the ice [you were] scared for him," Kunitz, a long-time teammate, recalled on Stanley Cup final media day.
"Obviously he's come a long way and he's got back to the point he left at."
Crosby's trip back to the third Stanley Cup Final (2008, 2009, 2016) has been a rollercoaster, one which saw him plunge into the deep unknowns of a concussion only to rise again as one of the game's top players.
It was around 18 months after he won his first and only Stanley Cup in 2009 that Crosby's career ventured into unsettling territory after he was hit unsuspectingly by then-Capitals centre David Steckel at the 2011 Winter Classic.
Crosby played one more game after the hit from Steckel and then wasn't seen on the ice for the Penguins in 10 months. Questions suddenly clouded over the future of the most hyped talent in decades. Speaking to reporters in the aftermath, Crosby said he felt off, sick, and stung by headaches. He had never suffered a concussion before.
Steckel, too, became something of a marked man, infamous for unintentionally threatening the future of Crosby, who had added to his legendary status in Canada by scoring the golden goal at the Vancouver Olympics in 2010.
Some in the media wondered whether Crosby should retire.
Flashes of brilliance
Crosby finally returned to the Penguins 324 days after he was first concussed and was quickly a star again.
He beat then-New York Islanders goaltender Anders Nilsson for two goals in his return and also dished out two assists in a 5-0 win. Kunitz remembers Crosby's first games back as "glimpses of everything that he could do".
Crosby mustered 11 points in his first five games back from the long layoff, but the celebration of his return didn't last long. He was gone again when symptoms of the concussion reappeared a few weeks later.
Crosby missed 40 games before he returned again and more than 100 in all with the injury.
He won the scoring race by 17 points in 2014, capturing his second Art Ross Trophy and his second Hart Trophy as the league's MVP.
Nobody in the NHL has more points over the past four seasons than the Penguins captain. No one's really even close. Patrick Kane ranks second over that stretch with 35 points fewer points (329-294).
Hart Trophy candidate
Crosby finished third in the scoring race this past season and is up for another MVP. He was the league's most dominant player in a second half that saw the Penguins surge under new head coach Mike Sullivan.
"I can tell you by watching him everyday that it's not by accident that he's as good as he is," said Sullivan. "I don't know that I've been around a player in all the years that I've been associated with this league with a work ethic like Sid's."
Crosby, sporting a thin, patchy-looking beard, says he has a better understanding of all that comes with chasing the Cup, his third attempt and first in seven years. He's also thankful to get another shot given his once murky status.
"I think I appreciated it prior to going through some of those things and I think now having gone through those things I definitely appreciate it more," Crosby said. "I think I realize how tough it is to get to this point."