Pens Ready for Islanders
PITTSBURGH – The most dynamic player in the world is questionable with a broken jaw. The reigning NHL MVP is coming off an injury plagued and subpar – by his standards – regular season.
The goaltender and his wife are dealing with a newborn baby. The sniper who scored a career-high 40 goals a year ago is barely three weeks removed from a concussion. The rock the defense is built around is out with a lower body injury. The foursome acquired at the trade deadline still have no idea where they’re going when they hop in a car and try to find their way around the city.
And the Pittsburgh Penguins are still heavy favorites to lift the Stanley Cup sometime in the next two months?
“We’ve proven in a number of situations, no matter who is out, we’re capable of playing good hockey,” Sidney Crosby said.
Pittsburgh cruised to the Eastern Conference’s best record despite missing Crosby for the final month of the season after he took a stray shot off his jaw. The Penguins dominated even with Evgeni Malkin sitting out 17 games due a lingering shoulder problem.
They strolled while James Neal dealt with the after effects of an elbow to the head and had no problem when goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury spent the last few weeks anxiously awaiting the birth of his daughter.
Newcomers Jarome Iginla, Jussi Jokinen, Douglas Murray and Brenden Morrow have fit in seamlessly after being acquired at the trade deadline to fuel a Cup run, even if they’ve taken to sticking close to their hotel on off days rather than get lost in Pittsburgh’s byzantine roadways.
Whether Crosby is cleared for Wednesday night’s playoff opener against the upstart New York Islanders hardly matters. The pressure – as always – is firmly on the Penguins.
“It’s what we’re used to,” Crosby said. “We’re all excited and glad to be in this position.”
The Islanders too, though for entirely different reasons. While the Penguins are fixtures this time of year, New York is making its first playoff appearance since 2007. That’s a lifetime by hockey standards. Islanders star John Tavares was a 16-year-old back then lighting up the Ontario Hockey League.
Now he’s the linchpin of a team that hasn’t made it out of the first round in 20 years.
Morrow is in his 13th year and still searching for his first Cup. He waived his no-trade clause to join a team that – on paper at least – is more formidable than any of the other seven teams in the East. With or without Crosby.
“If he’s in the lineup, that makes us a lot better hockey club,” Morrow said. “But if he’s not, somebody else is going to step up and play hard and take his place.”