by Will Graves
PITTSBURGH (AP)—Dan Bylsma promised to keep Sidney Crosby’s minutes under control as his star center eased his way back into the lineup following a three-month layoff.
It might be time to take the shackles off.
Crosby collected five assists during Pittsburgh’s three-game road trip through New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia that saw the Penguins pull within a point of the Eastern Conference-leading Rangers with three weeks to go in the season.
Flashing the speed and playmaking that made him the best player in the world before concussion-like symptoms in January 2011 sidelined him for basically 14 months, Crosby skated a combined 49 minutes over four days as Pittsburgh extended its winning streak to 11 straight before falling in the final second of overtime to the Flyers on Sunday.
The former MVP hardly seemed taxed by the workload, his No. 87 a blur during the extra session.
“He looked good, had some jump,” Bylsma said. “You saw that right through the overtime. He had a couple of good opportunities there.”
Crosby came within inches of scoring for the first time since Nov. 21 in the extra period, but his wrister sailed just wide of the net as his goalless streak extended to 10 games, the longest of his career. He is hardly frustrated though considering the way the Penguins are playing.
Pittsburgh plays seven of its final 11 games at Consol Energy Center, including visits by the Devils, Flyers and Rangers.
Still, despite ripping off the longest winning streak of the season, the Penguins weren’t thrilled with the way their run came to an end. Pittsburgh has been lights out when leading by two goals this season and dictated the pace for long stretches on Sunday before Philadelphia roared back in the third period then earned the extra point with 1 second left in overtime.
The frenetic action could be a preview of the opening round of the playoffs. If the Penguins or Flyers don’t catch the Rangers they’re almost certain to face each other in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
Despite Philadelphia’s spirited rally, the Flyers understand with Crosby back, Pittsburgh is arguably the best team in the league.