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Crosby's return Thursday vs. Rangers could complicate East

Led by MVP candidate Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh was already rolling as the NHL's top team over the last two months.

Throw in returning captain Sidney Crosby and the Penguins are loaded and ready to ascend to the top of the short list of Stanley Cup contenders.

Of course, that all depends on how recovered Crosby really is after a lengthy layoff because of concussion-like symptoms. If Crosby rounds into his old-MVP form by the time the postseason starts on April 11, then look out: The Penguins could be the team to beat.

Sid the Comeback Kid has a knack for stealing the spotlight wherever he plays. Outside of being on home ice, the former MVP's return couldn't be scripted any better: In New York against the first-place Rangers, who would have their once-sizeable lead in the East sliced to four points with a Pittsburgh victory.

Crosby's impact down the stretch starts to take shape Thursday at Madison Square Garden, but there's so many more teams than the Penguins and Rangers who will feel his return. The Flyers and Devils, for instance, are chasing Pittsburgh for the No. 4 seed and home-ice-advantage in Round 1. And then there's the teams that Pittsburgh will have to play down the stretch, whose jobs are about to become a little more difficult.

For the Penguins, though, the focus is in front of them. With more than three weeks left in the regular season, there's still enough time to catch the Rangers and earn that coveted top spot in the East.

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