PITTSBURGH (AP) — Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby is just happy to be back playing hockey again.
His teammates feel the same way, as a goal from Crosby in his first appearance of the season was all the Penguins needed to overcome a slow start.
Crosby jump-started a comeback as the Pittsburgh Penguins rallied from an early two-goal deficit to beat the Florida Panthers 3-2 on Tuesday night.
“We started off behind the 8-ball there getting down, but we stayed in it and had a big second half,” Crosby said.
Crosby, who scored on the power play, missed the team’s first six games with a concussion.
Carl Hagelin and Eric Fehr also scored for the Penguins, who extended a seven-game unbeaten streak against the Panthers.
Marc-Andre Fleury, who has started the first seven games of the season for Pittsburgh, stopped 20 shots. Matt Murray, who backstopped the Penguins to a Stanley Cup in June, served as the backup to Fleury after missing the first six games with a broken hand.
Reilly Smith scored a power-play goal and Mark Pysyk also scored for the Panthers, who have lost 11 of 12 against the Penguins in Pittsburgh.
James Reimer made 19 saves in his second start of the season.
Panthers F Jaromir Jagr returned to Pittsburgh where he won two Stanley Cups and five scoring titles, totaling 1,079 points in 806 games from 1990-01.
The Penguins honored Jagr, the No. 5 pick in the 1990 NHL draft, during Tuesday’s morning skate with a commemorative plaque made out of material from the Civic Arena roof. The 44-year-old Jagr, who is in his 23rd NHL season, ranks third all-time in NHL history in goals and points.
“For the most part, it was a good game, especially the first two periods,” Panthers coach Gerard Gallant said. “I thought we played hard and played really well, but then we let it get away from us.”
Crosby cut the Panthers’ lead to 2-1 in the second period. Crosby, who was wide open in the slot, had to reach for a pass from Evgeni Malkin, but recovered to whip a shot from the slot over Reimer’s shoulder.
“I had some time, so you want to make sure you put that one in when you have that much time,” Crosby said.
Hagelin tied it in the third when he sent a shot underneath Reimer’s arm during a 2-on-1.
Fehr put the Penguins in front for good when he one-timed a pass from Tom Kuhnhackl between Reimer’s legs.
Crosby’s goal was the catalyst.
Crosby, the two-time MVP and reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner, hadn’t played since sustaining a concussion in practice earlier this month.
Crosby participated in a full-contact practice Monday for the first time since suffering his third concussion in six years. And while Crosby called his participation in practice a major milestone in his recovery, he still feels there’s more to improve upon as he works his way back.
“I’ve been skating on my own, so it’s tough to get in any practices or game situations,” Crosby said. “I kind of expect that, but I feel like things kind of slowed down as the game went on.”
Despite the concussion, he forced his way into the action Tuesday when he recorded a hit on the first shift of the game.
“When you miss that much time, you just try to get involved early,” Crosby said.
Crosby described himself Tuesday morning as a game-time decision, but coach Mike Sullivan said the Penguins’ captain would likely make his season debut barring a setback after participating in the game-day skate.
Sullivan was happy with the results.
“For me, he didn’t miss a beat,” Sullivan said. “We got a huge boost from his goal. We’re grateful we got him back in the lineup and we’re a better team when he’s in there.”
Crosby, who captained Team Canada to a World Cup of Hockey championship last month, missed the better part of two seasons after sustaining a concussion in January 2011. He stressed he didn’t panic when doctors told him of the latest diagnosis.
The Penguins, meanwhile, went 3-2-1 with Crosby out of the lineup. He hopes it’s the last one he has to miss.
“I’m just happy to be back, playing my first game,” Crosby said. “Hopefully, I can play the rest of the season here.”
NOTES: Jagr played his 1,635th career game, tying Scott Stevens for seventh all-time. … Penguins D Kris Letang skated Tuesday with a no-contact jersey, but missed his third game with an upper-body injury. … Penguins F Conor Sheary is not cleared to play and will be re-evaluated in a week. … The Panthers played without Jonathan Huberdeau (lower body), Nick Bjugstad (upper body) and Jussi Jokinen (lower body). … Penguins D Brian Dumoulin played in his 100th NHL game.
Panthers: Continue a four-game road trip at Toronto on Thursday
Penguins: Host the New York Islanders on Thursday.
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