Crosby concussion sends chill through Penguins
Longtime teammate Fleury 'just hoping he feels better soon and [we] see him smile again'
PITTSBURGH — In this hockey-crazed city where Sidney Crosby is a hero, Tuesday's news that the Penguins captain has suffered another concussion is being felt on a visceral level.
The mood in Pittsburgh changed instantly just over five minutes into Game 3 of the Penguins' playoff series against the rival Washington Capitals on Monday night. The capacity crowd at PPG Paints Arena, whipped into a frenzy with the Penguins trying to build on their 2-0 series lead, went silent when Crosby was knocked to the ice by a combination of blows from Washington's Alex Ovechkin and Matt Niskanen — the latter delivering a shot to the head.
On Tuesday, the day after the Capitals' series-salvaging 3-2 overtime win, Pittsburgh head coach Mike Sullivan confirmed many people's worst fear — Crosby was diagnosed with his latest concussion and has been ruled out for at least Game 4.
"It's a tough moment for sure," goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. "I care a lot about him and my teammates. We've been friends for a long time."
On Tuesday at the Lemieux Sports Complex, several Penguins players participated in an optional skate. After the workout Fleury and others talked about the impact Crosby has on the team.
"He's our captain and our leader," Fleury said. "You can't replace him but we've shown when a good guy goes down other guys have to step up."
Fleury chose his words carefully as he talked to reporters prior to Sullivan's announcement on Crosby's status.
"He's always devoted to the team and hard-working out there. Just hoping he feels better soon and [we] see him smile again.
"He's very upbeat."
Sullivan used that same word to describe the mood of his best player.
"He's very upbeat. He's very positive," the coach said. "We're very optimistic and we're hopeful we'll get him back in a timely fashion."
Sullivan wouldn't comment on Crosby's potential availability beyond Wednesday night's Game 4, other than to say he remains hopeful based on his experience with players' concussions. Crosby, who has suffered several in his career, missed the first six games of the regular season with a concussion before returning to win the NHL's goal-scoring title.
"The nature of these things is they're all really different. Sometimes they come around quickly, other times they don't," Sullivan said. "My experience with dealing with [concussions] in the past with players is that they're day-to-day things and so we rely on our medical staff to advise us in the right way."
Sullivan also confirmed a concussion diagnosis for forward Conor Sheary, but trumpeted his team's ability to overcome challenges — on full display in Game 3 when the Penguins scored a pair of late goals to force overtime after Crosby's exit.
"We got a good hockey team here," Sullivan said. "We have a two-games-to-one lead in this series. We're proud of the way our guys played last night. We loved their compete level. We loved the resilience the team shows in the face of adversity.
"They always respond the right way. There's no doubt in my mind they'll do that again."
Penguins players and the coaching staff have been careful with their words regarding Niskanen's hit on Crosby, but forward Carl Hagelin opened up a bit after Tuesday's practice.
"I'm not going to comment on anything but it looked like a dirty hit to me," he said.
Niskanen was given a five-minute major penalty and a game misconduct, but on Tuesday morning the NHL's Department of Player Safety said no suspension would be handed out for the hit.
Fleury took a more diplomatic approach when asked about the collision.
"My thoughts don't really matter or change anything. It doesn't matter what I saw but I hope Sid feels good really soon."
Time to 'step up'
For as shaken as Penguins players, coaches and fans seemed to be Tuesday, there was also a collective sense of belief shared at the team's practice facility.
"[Crosby is] a player that you can't replace and I think we all realize we have to step up now," forward Jake Guentzel said. "I think it's tough but we know we have the capability in the locker room."
Hagelin echoed those thoughts.
"Every single player on this team has to step up. I think that's what it has to come down to."
For his part, Sullivan seemed to use his press conference to rally his players at a time when many are reeling from the Crosby news.
"This is just one more challenge that our team will face. We've had lots of them this season so we've had practice at it," he said. "And I think our guys are excited to get back on the ice for Game 4."