Sidney Crosby has been diagnosed with a concussion and will not play in Game 4, Penguins Coach Mike Sullivan said Tuesday. Sullivan said Crosby will be “day-to-day from there.”
Crosby sustained the concussion on a cross-check by Matt Niskanen in the first period of Game 3 on Monday night. The play started with Alex Ovechkin’s stick making contact with Crosby’s head, then Niskanen barreled into the Penguins’ star just 5:24 into the first period. Niskanen skated to the locker room, ejected from the contest with a game misconduct. Crosby was face down on the ice until a trainer came to his aid, then he too headed into the bowels of PPG Paints Arena.
Niskanen will immediately return to action after the NHL decided Tuesday to issue no further punishment for the hit. Crosby will not do the same for Game 4 in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, and the series could be greatly altered as a result.
“He will go through the protocols that we always put our guys through when they’ve been diagnosed with a concussion,” Sullivan said. “The nature of these things is that they are all very different. Sometimes they come around quickly, other times they don’t. My experience of dealing with these in the past with players is that they are day-to-day things, and so we’ll rely on our medical staff to advise us in the right way and our guys do a great job in that regard.”
Crosby has a long history of concussions. In the 2011 Winter Classic, then-Capitals center David Steckel delivered a blindside hit to Crosby’s head. Four days later, Crosby was driven into the boards by Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman. It was later reported that Crosby suffered a concussion, and he went on to miss 68 games and 10 months as symptoms lingered.
When Crosby got back to Penguins training camp after the World Cup of Hockey before this season, he suffered a concussion in a practice. He missed the first six games of the regular season.
Before exiting in the first period Monday, Crosby had two goals and two assists in Games 1 and 2. That came after notching two goals and five assists in a first-round series win over the Blue Jackets, and the 29-year-old also led the Penguins with 89 points (a league-high 44 goals and 45 assists) in the regular season. Before Monday’s game, he was named one of three finalists to the Hart Trophy, which is given to the NHL’s most valuable player.
That is why Crosby’s absence, for one game or more, can so heavily affect this series. He is one of the best players in the world, elevates whoever Sullivan puts on his flanks and was beating the Capitals in all kinds of ways to start this series: Scoring twice in 52 seconds in Game 1, weaving through three defensemen to set up a Phil Kessel goal in Game 2, then blocking a shot to spring a Jake Guentzel breakaway goal later in that contest.
Now the Penguins will adjust to a Crosby-less lineup ahead of Game 4, and they are not strangers to filling gaps both big and small. But Crosby’s concussion leaves them without the centerpiece of their offense as the Capitals look to even the series. After he left Game 3, Sullivan constructed a top line of Chris Kunitz, Evgeni Malkin and Kessel, and the Penguins did not score until they netted two six-on-five goals in the final two minutes of regulation. They also went scoreless on four power-play attempts.
“We’ve been through this all year with injuries,” Penguins forward Patric Hornqvist said Tuesday before Sullivan announced Crosby’s concussion. “Obviously if Sid is not playing tomorrow it’s a loss for us, but we need other guys to step up and we’ve been doing that all year.”