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Loss of Staal puts damper on dominant effort

by Shawn P. Roarke
PITTSBURGH -- While the Pittsburgh Penguins are happy with the short-term message they sent with their Game 1 domination of the Montreal Canadiens, they are worried about the long-term ramifications of Friday night's series opener at Mellon Arena.

Almost everything went right for the Penguins in the 6-3 victory that saw Montreal hero Jaroslav Halak get the hook early in the third period and the Canadiens' vaunted penalty-kill unit strafed for four goals in as many opportunities.

However, it is the one thing that went wrong in Friday's rout that may stay with the Penguins the longest.

Third-line center Jordan Staal, the key to Pittsburgh's checking line and penalty-kill unit, left the game with a right leg injury while killing a Maxime Talbot penalty midway through the second period.

Staal, who had a power-play goal in 8 minutes and 49 seconds of playing time before suffering the injury during an a collision with Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban, did not return to the contest and his status for Sunday's Game 2 is unknown.

"We're undisclosed with the injury," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "He'll be evaluated further."

There is little question, though, that the injury has the potential to be serious. Staal is a true iron man for the Penguins and has not missed a regular-season game in the past three years. So for him to not be able to answer the bell, there is a deep concern that this injury could leave the big center sidelined for a long period of time.

"Any time a guy misses (time) in the playoffs, there is a good reason why," Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby said. "You never like to see anybody go off, period. It's scary and you are always disappointed to see that, but that is the game we play and those are the things we work through."

Pittsburgh did a good job of working through it in Game 1. In fact, Craig Adams, who took many of Staal's third-line shifts after the injury, scored a pretty goal -- on a pass from Pascal Dupuis -- in the dying seconds of the second period that made the score 4-2 and short-circuited the momentum Montreal had built on Michael Cammalleri's goal three minutes earlier.

But it remains to be seen if the Penguins can deal with the long-term loss of Staal if it comes to pass.

"He's a huge part of our team. Probably the best third center in the League," Talbot said.

Friday night, Bylsma suggested that he would use Adams or Talbot as the third-line center until Staal returns. He even suggested that the team could plug in AHL call-up Mark Letestu, who played 10 regular-season games with the Penguins this year.

None of those players, however, have the pedigree or skill set of Staal.

"He's a big part of our team," Crosby admitted. "It's not something that is easy to deal with, but that is what you face."

And the Stanley Cup Playoffs are about overcoming adversity as much as scoring opportune goals or receiving clutch goaltending.

Crosby insisted his team would soldier on if Staal is gone for an extended period.

"There's no sense feeling sorry for ourselves and thinking about it," Crosby said. "There's nothing we can do. It's out of our control. If anything, somebody gets an opportunity to play some key minutes and fill his role. It's not an easy one to fill but a great challenge for anybody that is going to fill his spot."

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