Frustrating times have doomed the city of Pittsburgh as Penguins fans anxiously await the return of the steadily improving Sidney Crosby, but no one has been as frustrated as the Pens captain himself.
Any athlete can attest to the itching feeling of watching your team while you sit on the bench. It's especially worse if the team isn't performing well.
Not to say the Pens haven't done an amazing job staying afloat without the services of Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but the team has to bring a complete game just to have a chance at winning. Not an easy task when the Pens have been an incomplete team for some time.
However, on March 14, the Pittsburgh Penguins nation let out the biggest sigh of relief when video footage became living proof that Crosby was indeed improving by taking his first skate since the infamous Tampa Bay Lightning game on January 5.
Rumors of a compression fracture that would force a premature retirement flew out the door as did the other rumors plaguing news and blogging sites.
The news spread quickly as fans celebrated the huge leap in progress. The question of the day was how long would it take until Crosby could rejoin the team? Fans playfully cast wagers on the exact date of his return, spanning from the Islanders game on April 8 to the start of the second round of the playoffs.
Suddenly, the moods were lifted. All from a 30-second video clip that showed nothing more than Crosby walking down the runway and gliding on the ice surface.
Crosby has continued to progress since the first skate and fans have been blessed with more footage of Crosby stick-handling and shooting. Each video has given fans even greater hope that our captain could be ready to go at some point before the season ends for the Pens.
The amount of satisfaction from merely watching him skate has been significant, based on the reactions of fans all over the world. For most, relief is the most common feeling that comes to mind.
Watching the Pens without Crosby has been unsettling, namely because of certain games that have run away from the Pens in the most unprecedented ways, like letting four-goal leads slip and teams erasing two-goal deficits in a matter of minutes.
Knowing that No. 87 is in the lineup is certainly a good excuse to feel better about the pending performance of the team. The types of breakdowns we've witnessed in the last few weeks are hardly a common occurrence when the team is healthy.
It's been a rocky ride for the Pens as of late. Injuries and some stunning games aside, all that needs to be said is Matt Cooke.
The Penguins organization has been at the receiving end of much criticism the last few weeks because of the stance taken on head shots and people's feelings that the position is hypocritical because of said player.
How far can the Pens go in the playoffs with Crosby in the lineup?
It's no secret that fans were fed up with the Cooke/hypocritical topics; seeing Crosby skating and improving his timing and skills was a reminder that something better was on the way. It also meant the entire season might not result in the complete bust many expected.
That's not to say the Pens are a top contender for the Cup this season, but with Crosby in the lineup, whether he's at 50 percent or 100 percent, they will be a legitimate threat. Yes, even without Malkin.
But while seeing Crosby on the ice has lifted the spirits of Pittsburgh, we can hardly imagine how Crosby must be feeling.
Amidst a sure-to-be career year not only for Crosby, but the NHL, he lost all hopes of more glory after two hits to the head in consecutive games in January.
Two players who, in all likelihood, will never amass to the hockey player Crosby has become.
It had to be frustrating to grasp, especially when keeping in mind the level of competition Crosby brings to all aspects of his life and how desperately he wants to be the best at everything. Without a hockey stick in hand, Crosby sometimes looks like an uncomfortable adolescent.
Imagining Crosby unable to perform simple tasks like driving and watching TV is almost as discomforting. While he has been sidelined with injuries before, none have been this serious and career-threatening.
Finally skating after almost two-and-a-half months of recovery must have been one of the best feelings since winning Gold in Vancouver.
The best part about watching him skate has been his face.
He isn't smiling like he does when he's having a chill but productive practice. He's focused and all-business, almost stern-like. We're familiar with this face because it's the only expression we see from him for the majority of a hockey game.
You can tell he's ready to come back and you can see the fire in his strides that he wants to start right where he left off. This is obviously unlikely, but Crosby is notorious for surprising us.
He's going to want to avenge his lost season, even if it means he doesn't bring home any kind of individual hardware after the close of the playoffs. This will most certainly continue into next season when Crosby can finish what he started this season.
At this point, it's still a game of patience. It'll take some time before Crosby even rejoins the team and then he will have to be cleared for contact before we can even imagine a specific return date.
One thing is for certain, however.
Crosby's well on his way back.
Laura Falcon is a Featured Columnist for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Follow her on Twitter or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org with any comments or questions.