04/25/2013 06:27 EDT | Updated 06/25/2013 05:12 EDT

Sidney Crosby Set To Return To Practice

Sidney Crosby’s return to the Pittsburgh Penguins lineup for the start of the Stanley Cup playoffs became a stronger possibility on Thursday.

Crosby, who broke his jaw in a March 30 game against the New York Islanders, has been medically cleared to practise with his teammates, starting Friday.

The Penguins captain will meet with the medical people overseeing his recovery next week, at which time a determination on his return to the lineup could be made.

On Thursday, Crosby had several root canals to repair some of the damage sustained when he was struck in the face by a deflected slap shot from teammate Brooks Orpik just 88 seconds into that March 30 contest.

Upon his return to game action, Crosby is expected to continue wearing a plastic shield that protects his jaw. It's believed the jaw was fractured into several pieces rather than a clean break and if he were to take another hit in that area the healing process might have to begin anew.

Crosby sat atop the NHL scoring race by a wide margin when he suffered the injury and wasn't caught until Wednesday night, 25 days later, when Tampa Bay's Martin St. Louis scored a hat trick against Toronto to give him 58 points. His Lightning teammate, Steven Stamkos, had a goal and assist to move into a tie with Crosby.

Penguins defenceman Paul Martin (hand surgery) and winger James Neal (concussion) skated Thursday morning in Newark, N.J., but weren't expected to suit up later that night against the Devils.

Neal hasn't played since being diagnosed with a concussion following a hit from New York Rangers defenceman Michael Del Zotto on April 5.

Blue-liner Brooks Orpik and centre Joe Vitale, both of whom have unspecified injuries, did not make the trip.

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