|Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby gets up and leaves the ice after crashing into the boards leg-first.|
The Penguins and their fans got their first look at life without their captain when Crosby left Friday night’s 3-0 loss to the Lightning at Mellon Arena 7:37 into the first period with a high ankle sprain. Crosby had to be helped off the ice when he went into the boards behind the Lightning net feet-first, jamming his right skate.
“I had a feeling when he was going off the ice that it was serious,” said Penguins coach Michel Therrien, who added that he doesn’t know how long Crosby will be out. “'There is no team that can deal with losing the best player in the league. He is the heart of the team, and he is our leader. We are going to face adversity and we are going to have to battle through it.''
A high ankle sprain is an injury to the large ligament that connects the two biggest bones in the lower leg, the tibia and fibula. It’s more serious than the traditional twisted ankle and can sideline an athlete for a month or more — Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury sustained the same injury on Dec. 6 and has yet to return to the lineup.
That time frame would prevent him from playing in the All-Star Game in Atlanta on Jan. 27. The only word from the Penguins was team doctors will re-evaluate Crosby on Saturday, although Fox Sports Pittsburgh reported Crosby would miss approximately four weeks.
Tampa Bay, the NHL’s worst road team coming in at 5-14-3, took advantage of Crosby’s absence with three goals from its checking line. Ex-Penguin Andre Roy scored once and set up the other two goals for the Lightning.
Crosby, tied for the NHL scoring lead with 63 points, was shooting from the edge of the right circle when Tampa Bay defenseman Paul Ranger rammed him with his stick. Crosby dropped to the ice on his rear end but managed to swipe at the puck a second time before ramming awkwardly into the rear boards. His right ankle appeared to twist to the side as that leg absorbed the impact of the collision. Crosby initially got up and began to limp toward the bench, only to turn around and enter a tunnel to the Penguins locker room. He pulled up in visible pain in the walkway and had to be helped the rest of the way.
''To see a guy like that go down and not come back, it's tough,'' linemate Colby Armstrong said. ''Guys are going to have to take it upon themselves as a team to fill in. But I don't know if you can fill a spot like that.''
The Lightning led 1-0 on Kyle Wanvig’s goal 4:34 into the game ( 700K ) when Crosby went down with his injury. Without their captain, the Penguins struggled to generate offense and looked a step slow against the last-place team in the Eastern Conference. Tampa Bay outshot Pittsburgh 34-27 and Lightning goaltender Johan Holmqvist earned his second NHL shutout in front of a deflated sellout crowd.
''Sid is a big part of that team,'' Lightning star Vincent Lecavalier said. ''For them to win, someone else is going to have to lead, and I think (Evgeni) Malkin is going to have to do that.''
Malkin was held off the board after scoring 12 goals and adding three assists in his previous 12 games, including a pair of three-goal games in 11 days. He knows he can't go scoreless regularly with Crosby out if the Penguins are to stay near the top of the Atlantic Division.
''Right now, since we lost our leader and our captain, I'm going to try my best and raise my game,'' said Malkin, who is second on the team with 52 points. ''I'm going to try to do a little more.''
“We weren’t ready to play tonight,” Therrien said. “We lost the game in the first period.”
Roy, who also assisted on Wanvig’s goal, made it 3-0 at 5:32 of the third period ( 700K ). Roy’s three-point night matched his entire offensive production in 46 games.
''It's a team that gave up on me,'' said Roy, who was signed by Pittsburgh in 2005 following the NHL shutout only to be let go after playing five games last season. ''It's not like I was trying to get revenge or anything. It just happened like that.''
The loss ended Pittsburgh’s 10-game unbeaten streak in regulation. It was also the first regulation loss in 12 games for Conklin, who had been 10-0-1 since being recalled from the minors after Fleury’s injury.
Therrien said the Penguins — still tied with New Jersey for first place in the Atlantic Division — will have to do their best until Crosby’s return, beginning Saturday night in Montreal.
“A lot of guys will have to pick up their game and contribute the best they can,” he said.
Material from wire services and team online and broadcast media was used in this report.