PITTSBURGH – For more than two periods, the Pittsburgh Penguins witnessed what life without star Sidney Crosby is like. It wasn’t pretty.
Crosby badly sprained an ankle while ramming into the boards in the first period, and the Andre Roy-led Tampa Bay Lightning took advantage of his absence for a 3-0 victory over the Penguins on Friday night.
Crosby was diagnosed with a high ankle sprain, an injury to the large ligament that connects the two biggest bones in the lower leg, the tibia and fibula. The injury is more serious than the traditional twisted ankle and can sideline an athlete for a month or more. Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has been out since Dec. 6 with the same injury.
“Obviously, it is a huge loss,” said coach Michel Therrien, who 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.”
Until now, Crosby has missed only four games to injury during his three-season NHL career. The Penguins’ record without him is 0-2-2.
“To see a guy like that go down and not come back, it’s tough,” Penguins forward 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.”
Roy, a Pittsburgh castoff, had a goal and two assists to figure in all three goals as the Lightning won for only the third time in 12 games (3-7-2). Tampa Bay had been an NHL-worst 5-14-3 on the road.
Crosby, tied for the NHL scoring lead with 63 points, was shooting from the edge of the right circle midway through the first period when Tampa Bay defenceman Paul Ranger rammed him with his stick. Crosby dropped to the ice on his rear end and, while sliding, swiped at the puck a second time before ramming awkwardly into the rear boards, his left leg up.
Crosby’s 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 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.
“When I saw him leave the ice, I got the feeling it was very severe,” Therrien said.
Crosby will be re-examined by team doctors on Saturday, before his teammates play in Montreal. If the early diagnosis is accurate, last season’s NHL scoring champion and MVP seems certain to miss the Jan. 27 all-star game at Atlanta. He was easily the leading vote-getter for the game.
The Penguins trailed 1-0 when Crosby was hurt and generated little offence afterward without him as Tampa Bay led 34-27 in shots. Lightning goalie Johan Holmqvist turned aside 27 shots in his first shutout since last Feb. 1 against Carolina.
Roy, Kyle Wanvig and Chris Gratton scored as Penguins goalie Ty Conklin (10-1-1) lost in regulation for the first time this season. The Penguins had won six in a row at home and were 9-0-1 in their previous 10 overall, only to play an uninspired game that may have been aided by the sellout crowd’s visible letdown after Crosby was hurt.
“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 didn’t score after having 12 goals and 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.”
Roy’s three points matched his season’s total in his first 46 games this season. Gratton also had an assist.
“It’s a team that gave up on me,” said Roy, who was signed by Pittsburgh in 2005 following the NHL lockout 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.”
Tampa Bay was 2-7-2 in its previous 11 games and was coming off a 3-0 loss to Colorado on Tuesday, but won its seventh in a row in Pittsburgh since a 5-3 loss on Nov. 2, 2002.
Notes: Pittsburgh is 18-6-1 in its last 25 games. … Lecavalier, tied for the scoring lead with Crosby and Atlanta’s Ilya Kovalchuk, was held without a point for a fourth consecutive game and without a goal for the fifth game in a row. He hadn’t gone four consecutive games without a point since Nov. 22-27, 2005. … The shutout loss was only the second by the Penguins. They lost 4-0 to the New York Rangers on Dec. 18.