Crosby's return right around the corner?

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Crosby's return right around the corner?

From Comcast SportsNet
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Sidney Crosby's head is clear. The superstar's return, however, remains murky. The Pittsburgh Penguins captain participated in his first full practice since concussion-like symptoms resurfaced in December and there is growing optimism he'll be back before the playoffs begin next month. The ever-cautious Crosby insists there still is no timetable on when he'll be cleared to play in a game, but he looked crisp while spending more than an hour on the Consol Energy Center ice. "It's a good step," Crosby said. "Hopefully, I can keep the momentum and get out there soon." Though the headaches and motion issues that have bothered him intermittently since a loss to Boston on Dec. 5 have subsided, Crosby has been through this drill too often over the last 14 months to get too excited. The 24-year-old former MVP was spectacular in his return from a 10-month layoff in November, scoring twice in his season debut against the New York Islanders and collecting 12 points in eight games before he woke up with an all-too familiar feeling on Dec. 6. During that initial comeback he was cleared for contact in early October and had to wait about six weeks before getting the OK to suit up for a game. It may not take that long this time. "I'm going to give myself days, for sure, of contact," Crosby said. "If you look at our schedule, we have two more practices, I think, this week. No sooner than Sunday I would say but I'm not going to sit here and put a date on it. It would be total guesswork." Coach Dan Bylsma echoed Crosby's sentiments, but made sure Crosby got bounced around during a lively practice session. "It was man-on-man type stuff, some puck battles," Bylsma said. "We had him get through today, we'll see where we progress on day three, four, five and six." Crosby called the lineup "a dangerous place to be" and felt he "was getting a lot of bumps out there." It was a welcome feeling after three anxious months in which Crosby crisscrossed the country visiting specialists in hopes of getting a better handle on his health. Tests conducted out in California in late January discovered a previously undiagnosed soft tissue injury in his neck that mimics a concussion. He took a shot as part of the treatment and claims the results have been largely positive. "It's nice to be symptom free, but it's not as fulfilling until you get out there," Crosby said. "I just want to make sure that I take the right steps here and get back out there soon." The Penguins have surged over the last two months even with Crosby watching from a suite well above the ice. Pittsburgh has a six-game winning streak going into Wednesday's game against Toronto behind the play of MVP-candidate Evgeni Malkin and wingers Chris Kunitz and James Neal. Kunitz has typically teamed with Crosby since arriving in Pittsburgh in 2009, but Crosby doesn't expect Bylsma to break up arguably the league's hottest line whenever he's cleared to play. "They have a perfect mix of guys there to create every shift," Crosby said. Crosby has been pushing himself during non-contact drills in recent weeks and enjoyed getting knocked around on Tuesday. Yet he knows nothing can replicate game action. All he can do is get prepared. After that, it's up to chance. Either way, he's feeling better both on and off the ice. Considering what he's gone through the last 14 months, that's good news. "It's just one of those things where you get used to having things for so long you forget what normal is," he said. "I feel like normal has been a lot more regularly."

Fast Break Morning Update: Blackhawks give up season-high seven goals

Fast Break Morning Update: Blackhawks give up season-high seven goals

Here are some of Saturday's top stories in Chicago sports:

Five Things to Watch: Bulls visit Bucks in final regular season meeting on CSN

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Former Bulls center Joakim Noah suspended 20 games for violating NBA's anti-drug policy

Rule 5 pick Dylan Covey takes advantage of showcase as White Sox down Indians

Joe Maddon breaks down the Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella decision for Cubs

2017 NFL Draft Profile: Illinois OLB Dawuane Smoot

Five Things to Watch: Bulls visit Bucks in final regular season meeting on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Bulls visit Bucks in final regular season meeting on CSN

Watch as the Bulls take on the Toronto Raptors tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Bulls Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Bulls Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Bulls.

Five Things to Watch:

1. Can the Bulls get one on the Bucks? The Bulls are 0-3 against the Bucks so far this season and it hasn't been pretty. The Bucks have won the previous three meetings all by double digits and by an average of 19 points. The youth and athleticism of the Bucks has been a tough matchup for the Bulls so far.

2. Containing Giannis. There may be no stopping Giannis Antetokounmpo, but the Bulls can at least try to contain him. Antetokounmpo is averaging 23 points and nearly nine rebounds per game. In three games against the Bulls this year he has averaged 29 points, 10 rebounds and 7.3 assists per contest. If the Bulls are to stay in the game, they will need to keep him to numbers lower than that.

3. Playoff implications. The Bulls playoff hopes are still alive with nine games remaining, but things are looking a bit bleak. The Bulls are a game and a half out of the eighth playoff spot, but only 3.5 games behind two teams tied for the No. 5 seed, the Bucks and the Atlanta Hawks. The Bucks have won three in a row to improve their position.

4. Mirotic on a roll. Streaky play is nothing new to Nikola Mirotic, but he's on a good run currently. After scoring a season-high 28 points on Wednesday against the Pistons, Mirotic followed that up with 15 points against the 76ers. Since missing three straight games earlier this month, Mirotic has scored in double figures in five of the last seven games and is averaging 15.6 points during that stretch.

5. Beginning of a tough stretch. The Bulls' playoff hopes could be made or broken in the next three games. After taking on the Bucks, which occupy a playoff spot, the Bulls host two more Eastern Conference playoff teams in Cleveland and Atlanta. The Bulls need to string some wins together and this is not an easy stretch to do so against.

- Check out the latest stats and standings to make sure you're ready for action

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- Latest on the Bulls: All of the most recent news and notes

- See what Bulls fans are talking about before, during and after the game with Bulls Pulse