TAMPA — The way Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby sees it, the high ankle sprain he sustained Jan. 18 against the Lightning that caused him to miss 21 games was an accident.
Lightning defenseman Paul Ranger, he said, had nothing to do with it.
"I just slid into the boards," Crosby said. "That's all it was."
Crosby, who returned Tuesday, was hurt when he got tangled with Ranger and slid awkwardly into the end boards.
Wire service stories said Ranger "rammed" Crosby with his stick, causing the fall and injury. But Crosby dismissed the notion with a shake of his head.
"It's just nice to be back with the guys," he said. "I know there's still a lot of work to do, but I'm just happy to be out there."
Crosby came in tied for 21st in the league with 63 points on 23 goals, 43 assists. Without him the Penguins went 11-6-4, riding rising star Evgeni Malkin.
"I feel pretty strong right now," Crosby said. "That's what I based my decision on, how much strength I had and whether I was able to do things out there that I normally could do."
TORTS TAKES BLAME: The Lightning took its 16th loss, 11th in regulation, when tied or leading after two periods. Coach John Tortorella said before the game that, more than anything, knocked Tampa Bay out of the playoffs.
"And that falls on the coaching staff, too," he said. "The coaches need to get the message across maybe in a better way for them to understand it. So we're trying different things. We're trying a different voice in (associate coach Mike Sullivan) at times; we're talking about the same message but presenting it in a different way."
PICARD A KEEPER: Tortorella said he likes defenseman Alex Picard so much, he likely will remain with the team after Filip Kuba (right knee) returns. Picard, who had a goal, seven hits and averaged 19:42 of ice time in his first three games, was called up Feb. 27 from AHL Norfolk on an emergency basis after Kuba was hurt.
A SHAME: Penguins defenseman Darryl Sydor, who played for the Lightning's 2004 Cup team, said it is sad to see how far Tampa Bay has fallen.
"It's tough to look over there and know just a few years ago we won the Stanley Cup," he said.
ODDS AND ENDS: Tortorella said defensemen Matt Smaby and Vladimir Mihalik will soon be called up from Norfolk for a look. … Referee Mike Hasenfratz, part of the crew from Saturday's unevenly called game with the Hurricanes, called Tuesday's game with Kevin Pollock.
Damian Cristodero can be reached at email@example.com.