Sidney Crosby

Sidney Crosby’s first game back will be…

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As discussed yesterday on PHT, Sidney Crosby continues to play coy on when he’ll return to game action. No. 87 raised eyebrows by saying Friday’s game against Dallas is a possibility — eyebrows that were dropped when he added all of Pittsburgh’s upcoming games are possibilities.

Thanks, Sid.

But since Crosby opened up Pandora’s Box, we should probably dive in (there’s gotta be a better way to say that.)

Here are Pittsburgh’s games over the next 10 days, with reasons why each might be the return date for Crosby’s comeback game.

Fri. Nov. 11 vs. Dallas: People have been circling this one on the calendar for a while. That includes yours truly, who actually made the “circling the calendar” hand gesture on NBC’s Sportstalk two weeks ago. I’m like a mime.

The Pens are in the midst of a six-day break, giving Crosby plenty of opportunity to practice with his mates. Other things to consider: This could be a matchup of the NHL’s top two teams (Pittsburgh first, Dallas second at the time of writing) and will be the first time James Neal, Matt Niskanen and Alex Goligoski face their former clubs since the Dallas-Pittsburgh trade back in February.

Sat. Nov 12 at Carolina: Even though Pens GM Ray Shero indicated he’d prefer Crosby return at home, having him debut on the road would definitely deflect some pressure. Of course, the organization would likely be ripped to pieces by the fans if this happened, especially the day after the Pens played at Consol. Pretty sure this one isn’t happening.

(Pittsburgh did sweep Carolina at the RBC Center last year, mind you.)

Tue. Nov 15 vs. Colorado: Big television exposure (game will be shown on both Versus and TSN2) with the potential for even bigger offense. The Avs seem to have a knack for engaging in wild affairs on the road — prime examples include their 7-1 win in Ottawa, 6-5 shootout loss in Montreal, 5-4 shootout win in Chicago and 7-6 overtime loss in Dallas.

Thur. Nov 17 at Tampa Bay: The Lightning eliminated the Crosby-less (and, Malkin-less) Penguins from last year’s playoffs in stunning fashion. Pittsburgh jumped out to a seemingly comfortable 3-1 series lead before Tampa stormed back to win the final three…by a combined score of 13-4. This will also be the first meeting since the Lightning eliminated the Pens in Game 7.

Other intriguing dates:

Mon. Nov 21 versus New York Islanders: Bitter rivalry carrying over from last year. Also, a home game.

Sat. Nov 26 at Montreal: Return against Crosby’s boyhood team — in Montreal, no less.

Thurs. Dec 1 at Washington: Crosby vs. Ovechkin. ‘Nuff said.

So, when do you think Crosby will return? Have your say in the comments section.

Stanley Cup Final referees: McCauley, O’Halloran, O’Rourke, Sutherland

BUFFALO, NY - DECEMBER 13:  Referee Dan O'Halloran #13 holds up a face-off between the Buffalo Sabres and the Ottawa Senators during their NHL game at First Niagara Center on December 13, 2011 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Dave Sandford Getty Images)
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From the NHL:

refs

Pretty veteran crew, including three returnees from last year’s final.

Per the NHL, O’Halloran and O’Rourke will call tonight’s series opener from Consol.

After advancing to Cup final, DeBoer had Sharks fans coming up to him with ‘tears in their eyes’

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 29: Head coach Peter DeBoer addresses the media during the NHL Stanley Cup Final Media Day at Consol Energy Center on May 29, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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PITTSBURGH — When Pete DeBoer was hired to coach the San Jose Sharks, he wasn’t totally cognizant of how much heartbreak the fan base had experienced throughout the years.

Now he knows.

“First year in the community, I didn’t realize kind of the baggage that was carried around,” DeBoer said this morning ahead of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. “Twenty-five-year season-ticket holders coming up to you with tears in their eyes and crying.”

The Sharks, of course, have never been this far in the playoffs. Prior to this year, they’d made it three times to the Western Conference Final, losing each time.

More painful were the first-round exits. Like in 2009 when they won the Presidents’ Trophy and got knocked out by the Ducks, and two years ago when they led the Kings 3-0 before dropping four straight.

It was only after the Sharks beat the Blues that DeBoer fully realized the “gravity of what they’ve been through” as fans in San Jose, and “how important this is to them.”

Not that he’s satisfied with getting this far.

“The business at hand now is to get off on the right foot, plant the right seeds for this series, impose our game,” he said. “Every series is the same — it’s whatever team can impose their game on the other team the quickest and for the longest. That’s our goal here tonight.”

Related: For Pete DeBoer, San Jose was the perfect landing spot

Kopitar will play for Slovenia in Olympic qualifiers

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 13: Anze Kopitar #11 of Slovenia skates against Russia during the Men's Ice Hockey Preliminary Round Group A game on day six of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Bolshoy Ice Dome on February 13, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Los Angeles Kings center Anze Kopitar will spend part of his offseason trying to help Slovenia qualify for the Olympics.

RTV Slovenia has the story here.

The qualification games will be played September 1-4 in Minsk. Slovenia is in a group with Belarus, Denmark and Poland. The winner of the group will qualify for the Olympics.

The NHL reportedly has no issue with Kopitar’s participation, even though the league has yet to commit to sending its players to Pyeongchang.

Slovenia made its Olympic debut in ice hockey at the 2014 Games in Sochi.

Kopitar will also represent Team Europe at the 2016 World Cup later in September.

Related: Slovenia beats Slovakia for historic win

Zubrus in, Nieto likely out for Sharks in Stanley Cup Final opener

ST LOUIS, MO - MAY 15:  Dainius Zubrus #9 of the San Jose Sharks skates against Alexander Steen #20 of the St. Louis Blues in Game One of the Western Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scottrade Center on May 15, 2016 in St Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
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PITTSBURGH — Matt Nieto is healthy, and ready to go.

But it doesn’t look like he’ll go tonight.

The San Jose Sharks are unlikely to make any lineup changes for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final in Pittsburgh — at Monday’s optional morning skate, Nieto stayed out late with the extras while the guy he’d (presumably) replace in the lineup, Dainius Zubrus, told NHL.com he was in.

Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer wouldn’t reveal any lineup decisions during his morning media availability, instead talking up both Nieto (for his speed) and Zubrus (for his “heavy” game), adding he liked the versatility the two give the club on a night-by-night basis.

Nieto suffered an upper-body injury in Game 6 of the Nashville series, and missed all of the Western Conference Final.

Prior to getting hurt, he had three points in 11 games — this after a regular season in which he scored eight goals and 17 points in 67 games.