CRANBERRY TOWNSHIP, Pa. — Four days after a crushing hit, fiery accusations of foul play and concerns about the long-term health of one of the NHL’s greatest players, Sidney Crosby appeared completely normal.

Taking the ice with his teammates Friday for his first full practice since he suffered a concussion Monday, Crosby mixed it up in front of the net. He stopped on a dime in the slot, spun in place and gracefully flicked a no-look pass to a teammate. Afterward he calmed conspiracy talk and fears that the injury, coupled with a lengthy concussion history, could complicate his participation in the rest of this second-round playoff series with the Washington Capitals – and beyond.

But it still had only been a short while since Crosby was concussed on a cross-check by Matt Niskanen in Game 3 of the series and his availability is still day-to-day heading into Game 5 on Saturday, according to Penguins Coach Mike Sullivan. He missed the Penguins’ Game 4 win Wednesday but has skated for three consecutive days and said he “felt good” after finishing Friday’s practice. Crosby and Sullivan each said it will be important to see how Crosby responds Saturday morning to the workload.

Crosby is familiar with this scenario, even if no concussion is the same. This is the fourth reported concussion of his career, and the second this year after one in training camp kept him out of the first six games of the regular season. Sullivan assured the Penguins are not rushing Crosby back because it is the playoffs. Crosby echoed his coach.

“I think having gone through this I’d like to think I’m pretty aware of my body to this point,” said Crosby, who did not rule out playing Saturday, even with the Penguins holding a 3-1 series lead. “I understand the importance of making sure you’re good before you come back. I have a lot of belief in our staff here that they’re going to do everything in their power to make sure I’m good when I come back, and I trust them.”

The Penguins’ star center has missed 115 games for concussion-related issues in his career. The cumulative effect of multiple concussions, according to Anthony Alessi, an associate clinical professor of neurology and orthopedics at the University of Connecticut, is that the threshold for future head injuries is lowered.

Though he has no firsthand knowledge of Crosby’s current injury or rehabilitation, Alessi said the Penguins need to “absolutely be more cautious” given Crosby’s concussion history and that Crosby will be “more vulnerable” to repeated concussions given his record of them.
But that history cannot predict how Crosby will recover from his most recent concussion, Alessi said. Robert Cantu,  a clinical professor of neurosurgery and neurology and a co-founder of the CTE Center at Boston University, agreed.

The best indication of how long a recovery will be, Cantu said, is how many symptoms he had after the concussion and how severe they were.

“It depends on the forces that were involved, and of course it depends a little bit on what the individual has had before,” Cantu said. “But you cannot predict how long it’s going to take to recover from a concussion just because somebody has had a concussion before or just because a concussion that somebody had before has lasted for quite a period of time.”

After Crosby was diagnosed with a concussion during training camp, he regularly skated before returning to game action 15 days later. That does not mean, according to Cantu and Alessi, that he needs a baseline of 15 days before returning from this concussion. Cantu did explain that an early return, for any athlete, would mean less force would be required to induce another concussion or reignite concussion symptoms.

The force involved for this concussion was a cross-check by Niskanen, which immediately followed Alex Ovechkin’s stick hitting the back of Crosby’s head. A handful of Crosby’s teammates have taken public exception to Niskanen’s hit, and theories that it was premeditated or malicious have floated through the media this week. Addressing it Friday, Crosby chose the high road.

“Well, I think the slash [from Ovechkin], I think, he’s trying to prevent a goal. I mean, that’s pretty common, pretty common play, I think for the most part,” Crosby said. “There are kind of different levels of how hard, but I think that’s just a standard as far as going to the net with the puck. Guys are trying to prevent you from shooting. The other play, it’s hard to say. I mean, I’m not going to sit here and guess, but it’s not one that happens too often.”

That last part was in reference to Niskanen’s hit, and Crosby later added that “things happen fast out there.”

He and Sullivan were steadfast that Crosby’s recovery isn’t unfolding in a rushed fashion, even if it is playoff time and Crosby’s return would give the Penguins the best player in the world.

“The priority has always been on the health of our players first and foremost,” Sullivan said. “And that will never change.”