Penguins notebook: Crosby moves key step closer to return

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NEWARK, N.J. -- While his teammates were in New Jersey for a game against the Devils at Prudential Center, Penguins center Sidney Crosby spent at least some of Thursday in doctors' offices in Pittsburgh.

He not only got dental work done, but he also received clearance to resume practicing with his teammates and is expected to do so today.

It's a significant step in his recovery from a broken jaw he got March 30 when he was hit by puck, although no decision has been made on when he can try to play. He will meet with the medical people overseeing his recovery again next week.

Crosby missed his 11th game in a row Thursday and will not play in the Penguins' regular-season finale Saturday at home against Carolina. He could be cleared to play in time for Game 1 of the playoffs next week, most likely Wednesday.

Crosby underwent several root canals Thursday. In addition to the broken jaw, he lost several teeth. He previously had his top teeth replaced.

Regardless of when he returns, Crosby is expected to continue wearing a plastic shield that protects his jaw. That has been a staple of his equipment since he resumed skating separately from his teammates.

Doctors used titanium plates and screws to put Crosby's jaw back together -- it is believed to have been fractured into several pieces, as opposed to a simple, clean break -- and, if he were to be hit in the jaw before the metal and bone set, the healing process might have to begin anew.

Crosby, a runaway leader in the NHL scoring race when he was injured, finally was caught Wednesday night by Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos of Tampa Bay.

Before Thursday, St. Louis had 58 points, while Crosby and Stamkos were tied for second with 56.

More injury updates

Two other Penguins remained home because of injuries, while two more participated in the team's game-day skate but not the game.

Defenseman Brooks Orpik, who left the loss against Buffalo after the first period Tuesday, and center Joe Vitale have unspecified injuries and, according to coach Dan Bylsma, are out on a day-to-day basis.

Defenseman Paul Martin, recovering from surgery for a broken bone in his left hand, and winger James Neal, recovering from a concussion, took part in the morning skate and could return Saturday.

"I was hoping for [Thursday night], but now I think it looks like probably Saturday, but that's no guarantee," Martin said. "I feel good enough. It would be nice to get a game in before the playoffs start."

Martin missed his12th game in a row. He had been skating for several days before getting clearance to practice and began using a stick fairly quickly after he started skating.

"I think it has helped a lot, especially being my bottom hand," he said. "I was able to skate and hold a stick a lot sooner than if it was my other hand. It's felt good. I'm wearing protection to keep it locked in, so it's not the most comfortable stickhandling, but, as far as shooting and limitations, I haven't had any issues."

Neal, who missed his eighth game in a row, is symptom-free.

With the top seed in the Eastern Conference locked up, Bylsma won't push to get any injured players back for Saturday if there's any risk.

"To get back in and play games is better than to not and wait until Game 1 of the playoffs," Bylsma said. "Having said that, we can't rush players back in to get that one game and aren't going to do that."

Early finish for Sullivan show

Getting shipped to a Stanley Cup finalist from the previous season can be pretty promising, but such a trade didn't assure Steve Sullivan of anything.

"I knew it was going to be a dogfight when I got traded here," former Penguins winger Sullivan said of a deal that brought him to New Jersey from Phoenix early this month. "We were in the thick of things, and there were a lot of teams that were very close."

He arrived near the beginning of what turned into a 10-game losing streak.

The Devils had been eliminated from playoff contention before the Penguins visited the Prudential Center. It wouldn't have been any different had he remained with the Coyotes, who also are out of the playoffs.

"It would have been great to play in the postseason," Sullivan said. "As a kid you want to win a Stanley Cup, and you can't do it if you don't play in the playoffs. It's a disappointing end to the year."

Sullivan, 38, is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent again this summer.

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Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@post-gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG.


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