There likely was a time in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final, while he was watching his team lose 39 of 55 faceoffs, that Penguins coach Dan Bylsma wished he had Mike Zigomanis to handle some of those draws.
Turns out, he could have.
Zigomanis, who injured his right shoulder in early December and underwent surgery in mid-January to repair damage to his rotator cuff, was given medical clearance to resume playing Thursday.
Bylsma and his staff are believed to have at least considered the possibility of getting him back in uniform, although that seems like a long shot. After all, asking a guy to step into a Cup final and contribute after not playing for six months is likely a bit much.
Not that Zigomanis would hesitate, if asked.
"I think anybody would love it," he said yesterday. "I'd like to get back. It's kind of tough watching all year."
After Dr. James Andrews performed the surgery on him, Zigomanis was told to expect a recovery period of six months or more. It turned out to be four months and 10 days.
"I worked with [physical therapist] Mark Mortland every day for 4 1/2 months," Zigomanis said. "Getting to this point was tough, but now I'm ready to play."
Zigomanis began practicing a few weeks ago and, before that, had done extensive work with conditioning coach Mike Kadar to get back into playing shape.
Penguins center Sidney Crosby is one of three finalists for the Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award, which recognizes players for their achievements on and off the ice. Other finalists are Boston defenseman Zdeno Chara and Calgary winger Jarome Iginla.
Messier is solely responsible for choosing the finalists, although he takes input from team officials, league personnel and fans.
Crosby was selected, Messier said, because of what he has done while "having the weight of the NHL on his shoulders and conducting himself [well] as a young player, much like Wayne Gretzky did when he came into the league."
Messier and Gretzky were teammates on the 1984 Edmonton Oilers, a club these Penguins have often been compared to. Edmonton lost to the New York Islanders in the 1983 Cup final but beat them the next year.
Messier said comparisons between the Penguins and Oilers aren't unreasonable, but he was quick to point out that getting back into the series against Detroit will be an enormous challenge for Crosby and his teammates.
"Execution gets to be the primary factor in the final," Messier said. "[The Penguins] had some fundamental breakdowns in the second game that, at this time of year, are very hard to recover from, especially against a team like Detroit."
The anxiety level in the Penguins' locker room was not particularly high after the game-day skate yesterday.
It's not that they were not aware of what was at stake in Game 3, just that they believed their performances in Games 1 and 2 could have been enough to get them at least a split.
"After the second game, I think that if you brought someone into our locker room, they would have been a little surprised," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "Guys were a little disappointed but, at the same time ... I don't want to say guys were loose and joking around, but it kind of felt like we played well but just didn't finish our opportunities and that, if we had, it would have gone the other way."
Dave Molinari can be reached at DWMolinari@Yahoo.com .