TAMPA — Months after Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby was concussed, Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said he still heard questions.
Even in his native Sweden.
"A lot of guys asked me about the hit," Hedman said. "I said, 'It's tough to explain.' I just finished my hit, and that was the end of it for him for that season and the beginning of this season."
The hit, Jan. 5 in Pittsburgh, was more a shove from behind — though Hedman did leave his feet — but it was enough that Crosby's head hit the glass. He hasn't played since.
The story got new life with word that Crosby, who has been cleared for contact for a month, will not be in the lineup tonight at the St. Pete Times Forum.
"You don't want to be on the spot where you end someone's career," Hedman said Wednesday. "But he's on the way back, and that's a good thing to see."
What Hedman did not mention — and it is integral to the story — is the hit to the head Crosby took four days earlier from then-Capitals center David Steckel, a blind-side shoulder shot so vicious, it is difficult to believe Crosby's concussion problem did not start there.
But the center kept playing. That set up the encounter with Hedman — portrayed by some in the media as the player who ended Crosby's season and who was booed in Pittsburgh during the playoffs — and more than 10 months waiting for his return.
"I think everyone in the league and our team wants to see him play," Lightning center Nate Thompson said. "I think it makes every team better when he's playing. It makes everyone better. It's better for the league. You want a guy like that. You hope for the best for Sid. You don't want him sitting out like that."
"I just can't imagine," said Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher, who coached Crosby in juniors, "what his life is like without being able to play."
Crosby's absence won't change how the Lightning approaches the game against the No. 1 team in the Eastern Conference, led by left wing James Neal, who entered Wednesday second in the league with 12 goals.
Tampa Bay, on a two-game losing streak, has plenty to worry about with its game, such as a sputtering power play and simply breaking out of the defensive zone, two areas that were major focuses of Wednesday's practice.
"Just worry about our agenda, and that's it," said center Steven Stamkos, who added he "completely forgot" about the possibility of Crosby's return.
"I didn't even think about that, to be honest," Stamkos said. "(The Penguins are) playing really good right now. They've got guys who have stepped up and played well. For us to be in the game, we're going to have to play solid defensively."
As for Crosby, Stamkos said, "Hopefully, he returns soon. He's obviously one of the best players in the league and an exciting player to watch."
"I just told everyone," Hedman said, "I hope he recovers fast."
NOTES: Left wing Ryan Malone (upper body) has a "minimal" chance of playing, Boucher said. … Right wing Teddy Purcell (illness) could be out. … The new west entrance at the Times Forum will be open.
Damian Cristodero can be reached at email@example.com.