Pittsburgh, oh Pittsburgh…how you have spoiled us with dramatic NHL returns!
January 26, 1991…after spending over half the season sidelined by back surgery and a subsequent infection, Pittsburgh Penguins superstar Mario Lemieux stepped onto Quebec Colisee ice and notched three assists in a 6-5 Pens win over the Quebec Nordiques. As any Penguins diehard will tell you, that sparked a run that eventually resulted in Pittsburgh claiming their first ever Stanley Cup championship that May.
March 2, 1993…the same Mario Lemieux returned from cancer treatments to record a goal and assist against the Philadelphia Flyers in a 4-3 Flyers win. The normally hostile Flyers fans give Lemieux a standing ovation. Although the Penguins fell in the second round of the 1993 playoffs, Lemieux took home the Hart, Art Ross, Masterton, and Lester Pearson awards while averaging 2.67 points per game. Had Lemieux remained healthy at that production, he was on pace to record 224 points in 84 games, easily surpassing Wayne Gretzky’s record of 215 points in a season.
October 7, 1995…once again, defying the odds, Mario Lemieux, after sitting out the entire 1994-95 season, stepped onto NHL ice again. Always one with a dramatic flair, Lemieux notched four assists as the Penguins outscored the Toronto Maple Leafs 8-4. The Penguins would advance to the 1996 Conference Finals before falling to the Florida Panthers. Lemieux would record the NHL’s last 150+ point season with 161 points.
The comeback trail for the Penguins would remain quiet until December 27, 2000. After he retired in 1997, Mario Lemieux shocked the hockey world by announcing he would suit up again for the Pens. He made his return two days after Christmas 2000, scoring a goal and recording two assists in a 5-0 Pens win over the Maple Leafs. He would finish with 76 points in 43 games.
Now, we have yet another comeback for Pens Nation to cheer for. After suffering twin blows to the head, receiving a severe concussion in the process, Sidney Crosby returned to the Penguins lineup on November 21, 2011. The location: Console Energy Center in Pittsburgh. The opponent: the New York Islanders. The result: a 5-0 victory for the Penguins. Crosby’s result: two goals and two assists for a four point night.
There’s something special about a star athlete making a comeback and performing at a level none expected. No one…not even Sid himself…expected a four point output. After ten months, questions arose about Crosby’s health, his drive, and his timing. He put them all to rest. Time will tell if his concussion is healed, if he can withstand the constant punishment of an NHL season. But for now, the NHL universe is as it should be, with its brightest star shining bright on this cold November evening. True hockey fans will admire his artistry, even if they aren’t Sidney Crosby fans. And for Penguin fans…let’s enjoy this evening, as we got to witness yet another amazing return…as if the numerous returns of #66 weren’t enough, we are grateful and privileged to watch #87 shine bright in the Pittsburgh night.
Welcome back, Sidney Crosby.