Crosby status obscures Rangers-Penguins as Game 6 looms | professional sports

PITTSBURGH (— Sidney Crosby pushed his way down the tunnel and out of sight. Any sense of security the Pittsburgh Penguins had in their first-round playoff series against the New York Rangers disappeared with their captain.

Superstar status for Friday Night Game 6 uncertain after Crosby soaked up a high but – in the eyes of officials – a legal hit by Jacob Trouba late in the second period of Game 5 on Wednesday night. He didn’t play the last 26 minutes and was nowhere near the bench as a two-goal lead turned into a 5-3 loss that sent the series back to Pittsburgh.

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan offered few details Thursday other than saying Crosby will continue to be evaluated. Sullivan declined to comment on whether the three-time Stanley Cup champion suffered another concussion, saying only Crosby suffered from an upper-body injury.

While Sullivan stressed his group has what it takes to win no matter who’s in the lineup, the reality is the Penguins aren’t the same when Crosby’s familiar number 87 doesn’t do the little things. – and the big ones too – that made him a singular force for the better part of two decades.

It was evident in the immediate scramble after Crosby’s departure. Pittsburgh allowed three goals in under three minutes and struggled to generate consistent pressure on New York goaltender Igor Shesterkin after the Rangers took the lead for good in the third period.

Crosby spent two years struggling with post-concussion issues a decade ago, hitting the middle of his peak. He’s been largely healthy since 2013, though he missed a second-round game against Washington in 2017 after suffering a header break from Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen.

“We always thought here that there was a next-man approach,” Sullivan said.

There will be a front-line center for Pittsburgh Friday night, likely Evgeni Malkin if Crosby isn’t available. Malkin, like Crosby, is one of the pillars around which the franchise is built. Still, Crosby’s play in the first four games of the series showed that even in the second half of his Hall of Fame career, he’s a dominating presence in his 15th playoff run.

Crosby had two goals and seven assists before being injured. Earlier this week, he became the sixth player in NHL history to reach 200 career playoff points. The score sheet, however, doesn’t paint the full picture of what Crosby brings.

“It’s the little things you have to watch, and that’s what you appreciate,” said former NHL forward Anson Carter, now an analyst for Turner Sports. “He’s not going to knock you out of your seat like Connor McDavid with his speed or Nathan MacKinnon. He’s not going to blow you away with his hitting shot like the barrel of a shot like (Alex Ovechkin). But the nuances of his game are exceptional. And when you look at it enough and see the little things it does, you’re like, ‘Wow, that was a great piece.’ »

Crosby remains equally essential to Pittsburgh’s success for things that have nothing to do with his presence on the ice.

“He’s not just a leader by his actions, but he’s a leader by his demeanor and the way he conducts himself,” Sullivan said. “And it’s a voice of reason, you know, through emotional, rambunctious play.”

The Penguins now face the prospect of potentially navigating those choppy waters without him. Then again, they also play at home, a place that reveled in Shesterkin’s shaky play. The Vezina and Hart Trophy runner-up was taken out of Games 3 and 4 earlier in the series.

Panthers at Capitals, Florida leads 3-2 (6:30 p.m., TBS)

Carter Verhaeghe has the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Panthers on the verge of eliminating the Capitals. Verhaeghe scored twice, including the overtime winner, in Game 4 in Washington and set a franchise record with five points in Florida. Game 5 win at home.

“He’s definitely done some damage in this series,” Capitals coach Peter Laviolette said Thursday. “For me, he has a good outing, he has good attacking instincts, he blends into a team that has a lot of power.”

The Capitals have less firepower this series without right wing Tom Wilson, who was injured in Game 1 and hasn’t played since.

Flames at Stars, Calgary leads 3-2 (8:30 p.m., TNT)

A third-period rally at home in Game 5, the Flames are within a game of reaching the Western Conference Semifinals for only the second time since 2004.

“At the end of the day, we have a lot of guys who haven’t won a fourth game (in a series),” Calgary coach Darryl Sutter said. “That’s the next step in the process, (to) see if we’re capable of doing it.”

Flames forward Blake Coleman is suspicious. The Stars are just two years away from a trip to the Stanley Cup Final, a run that began with a first-round win over Calgary.

“If there’s anything I’ve learned over the past few years, it’s that shutting down a team is the hardest part of the series and winning that fourth game is the hardest game to win,” Coleman said. It is certainly not done. It’s a proud band and you have to put them in a position where they don’t want it anymore.

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