Canadians cheered and hockey fans held their breath as Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby made a spectacular return to action on Monday after being sidelined for nearly a year recovering from a concussion.
Crosby celebrated his comeback in dazzling style scoring twice and setting up two other goals as the Penguins pounded the New York Islanders 5-0.
I was obviously really excited and tired of waiting to play, Crosby told reporters. I felt great, as the game went on I felt like it got better-and-better. I was so fired up.
Being back out there, I can't really even describe it.
I was anxious, there were a lot of different things going through my mind but the main thing was just the joy of playing and that's something that I've missed for the last 10 months.
Welcomed back with a thundering ovation and chants of Crosby, Crosby from a sell-out crowd, it was as if nothing had changed, as Crosby, showing no hesitation, seized the spotlight.
But in reality after 320 days away, Crosby returned to a very different NHL.
Since he last played, the Boston Bruins had ended a 39-year Stanley Cup drought, the NHL had returned to Winnipeg and more significantly the league had cracked down on the type of head hits that put the Canadian's career in jeopardy.
After watching the face of the NHL become afflicted with concussion like symptoms, the league was forced to take a hard look at head hits bringing in tougher penalties and rules but stopping short of the outright ban Crosby had called for.
Everyone is different, with concussions we are learning more-and-more about them but they are not always the same type and everyone needs different things, said Crosby.
There are a lot of different things out there and you do whatever is best for you.
Still a dangerous sport, the game was filled with anxious moments as Crosby absorbed his first serious contact in almost 11 months, the NHL, the Penguins and fans all breathed a sigh of relief as the 24-year-old All-Star emerged from his return unscathed.
The NHL's runaway scoring leader with 32 goals and 66 points when he was forced out with his concussion, Crosby seamlessly picked up where he left off with a performance that will go down as one of the sport's great comebacks, alongside Penguins' owner Mario Lemieux's return from cancer and Wayne Gretzky's comeback from a back injury.
The crowd had barely sat down before 'Sid the Kid' had them back on their feet when he took control of the puck just outside the New York zone charged in over the blueline and zipped a backhand over Islanders netminder Anders Nilsson while fighting off a defender just five minutes into the first period.
It felt great, I think my reaction said it all, said Crosby about his first goal. I was looking forward to this for a long time and I was hoping that could contribute.
I got hit hard, harder than in practise and I have to make sure I can deal with that.
Anyone who's gone through this would be lying if they didn't say they were a little anxious to get those first couple of hits.
Word of Crosby's return came quietly and suddenly, the team announcing on Sunday he would return on Monday.
The news triggered a frenzy among the media, the Penguins handing out over 250 accreditations for the game while the Canadian Broadcast Corporation and the NHL's U.S. television partner Versus, immediately altered their programing schedules to include Monday's game.