The Stanley Cup playoffs, it is said, are all about adjustments, and Sidney Crosby made a pretty significant one in Game 5 of the Penguins' first-round playoff series.
At the end of the first period, he swapped the plastic bar he had been wearing on his helmet to protect his still-healing jaw for a narrow version.
Crosby figured it might expand his field of vision, allow him to see the puck a bit better.
Probably made it possible for Crosby to get a good look at the spectacular goal -- the goal so frequently compared to the one Mario Lemieux scored a quarter-century ago that has been commemorated in bronze outside Consol Energy Center -- he scored precisely 14 minutes after play resumed, too.
Although that was his signature sequence from the opening-round playoff series against the New York Islanders, it hardly was Crosby's only contribution to getting his team into the second-round series against the Ottawa Senators that begins at 7:38 p.m. today at Consol Energy Center.
After sitting out the opener -- the 13th consecutive game he spent in street clothes -- while awaiting medical clearance, Crosby put up three goals and six assists in five games while averaging 21 minutes, 43 seconds of ice time.
That was good enough to tie linemate Jarome Iginla for third place in the playoff scoring race going into Monday night.
And to make an impression on Iginla.
"He's everything, as advertised," Iginla said Monday. "He's an exceptional player. World class."
Crosby also is pretty much back in pre-injury form, aside from some dental damage done March 30 when a Brooks Orpik shot was deflected into his face.
Any issues he experienced with game conditioning are now being discussed in the past tense.
"Games 5 and 6 was probably when I felt the best," Crosby said. "That's good, because you want to keep getting better."
And there was, to be sure, room from improvement after his first couple of games back.
"Game 2, it was pretty good," he said. "Game 3 was tough. The first game back after that long, you're just on adrenaline. ... To go into overtime the second game back, I definitely felt that second game back a lot.
"The last two we played, I felt really good. Felt like I could handle the minutes and didn't feel like I was wearing down that much. It was much better."
Part of the reason for that is that Crosby put so much effort into getting ready to rejoin the lineup.
"Even when he wasn't able to play, when he goes out to practice, he's practicing hard," Iginla said.
But it also had to help that, for the past week or so, Crosby hasn't been limited to what had been his four primary food groups: Soft, Liquid, Mushy and Pureed.
The list of what he's allowed to eat these days is fairly easy for him to remember.
Not that he's taking that literally.
"It's more trial-and-error," Crosby said, citing nuts as something he's avoiding. "You see what you can get away with, or what feels right.
"Anything that's really hard, I haven't tried. But as far as steak or chicken, stuff that was a little be tough early on, it's not a problem now."
Neither, he added, is that plastic bar he's wearing to protect his jaw.
"I've gotten used to it," he said. "There have been times when pucks have been in my feet a bit where I've lost sight of it, but other than that, it's been pretty good. You don't really think about it once you're out there."
Crosby also seems to be settling in with his linemates of late, Iginla and Pascal Dupuis.
Still, Dupuis has shifted from right wing to the left and Iginla is getting his first real opportunity to skate alongside Crosby, since Crosby was hurt early in Iginla's first game after being acquired from Calgary.
The line, then, will remain a work-in-progress, as well as one of great promise, while its members try to develop some chemistry.
"It's all about tendencies, and being able to guess where each other is going without always having to see each other," Iginla said.
So there's every reason to believe that line will get better, with each game it is intact.
So might Crosby, the further removed he gets from his injury, although his teammates have filed no formal complaints about what they've gotten from him in his first five games back.
"He wasn't bad," Dupuis said, chuckling. "The same, old Sidney Crosby."mobilehome - penguins
Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@post-gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG. First Published May 14, 2013 4:00 AM