If the Penguins are to eliminate the Rangers on Friday night, they will have to do so without Sidney Crosby.
The Pittsburgh superstar, who did not return in Game 5 of the first-round playoff series after receiving a hit from Rangers defenseman Jacob Trouba, did not skate with his teammates during Friday morning practice and will not prepare for Game 6.
“Sid is in a good place,” coach Mike Sullivan told reporters Friday morning, hours before the Penguins tried to turn their 3-2 first-round lead into a second-round playoff berth.
Crosby, as he has been since being drafted No. 1 overall by Pittsburgh in 2005, has been the focal point of the Penguins offense in the playoffs. He torched the Rangers and their candidate Vézina goaltender Igor Shesterkin for two goals and nine points in the first five games.
The logical player to step in in Crosby’s absence would be Evgeni Malkin, a longtime complement to the top center who dominated when the Pittsburgh captain was sidelined with various injuries during his career.
“We expect him to be the player he was for us during my time here,” Sullivan said of Malkin. “He has the ability to be a dominant payer. I think his track record speaks for itself.
Crosby isn’t the only injury problem for the stoned Pens.
Goaltender Louis Domingue did an admirable job replacing backup goaltender Casey DeSmith after leaving Game 1 of the series with a heart injury that required surgery. Starter Tristan Jarry could be available for a possible Game 7 against Rangers as he recovers from an upper body injury.
Also absent for Pittsburgh is defenseman Brian Dumoulin (lower-body injury), although forward Rickard Rakell is considered a game-time decision after being injured in Game 1 of the series.
“Well, that’s not something our team isn’t used to,” Sullivan said. “We have played a good part of this season in these circumstances and these situations. It’s a great opportunity for the guys to step up and play a bigger role and contribute in other ways to help our team win. I think our guys are excited about it and they’ve shown an ability to rise to the occasion. … It’s not something our team isn’t used to.
“We think we have what it takes to win.”