The Pittsburgh Penguins are bracing for the possibility they will be playing Game 6 without Sidney Crosby, after their captain left Game 5 against the New York Rangers on Wednesday during the second period and did not return.
Crosby played just six shifts in the second period, and did not play the last 6:50 of the frame, leaving during a television timeout with 5:43 remaining. He did not return to the bench for the third period.
After his injury was not disclosed Wednesday night, Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan provided an update on Thursday morning stating Crosby had an upper-body injury and would be evaluated in Pittsburgh on Thursday.
"Sid will be evaluated when he goes back to Pittsburgh with us today," said Sullivan. "He has an upper-body injury. I'm not going to get into more specifics with that."
It wasn't immediately clear what incident prompted Crosby to head to the dressing room, but during one of his final shifts, Rangers defenceman Jacob Trouba connected with him on a hard, high hit near the faceoff dot amid a scramble for the puck. No penalty was called on the play.
Crosby fell to the ice, rose to his skates, and immediately headed for the bench. The Penguins star went on to play two more shifts before leaving the game for good.
"Did you see the hit?" Sullivan said, when asked for comment on the play Wednesday night. "You probably have the same opinion I do."
Sullivan later added on Thursday morning that it's not his responsibility to share his opinion, it's the leagues.
Trouba will not face a league hearing for the hit, and therefore will not face supplemental discipline.
Through the first five games of the series, Crosby was playing some of his finest playoff hockey in years, leading with Penguins with nine points, scoring two goals and adding seven assists.
The Rangers scored three times in quick succession after Crosby left, erasing the Penguins' 2-0 lead. Jake Guentzel scored his second of the game to restore a tie, but the Rangers' young talent rose to the occasion in the third period, delivering a 5-3 win to the faithful at Madison Square Garden that extended the best-of-seven series to a Game 6.
"We never want to see a player like that leave, but we have to find a way," Guentzel said. "He's the best player in the world. That's a lot of minutes other guys have to take up. Next man up."
If Crosby's injury proves to be head-related, it would be especially worrisome given his history with concussions.
The two-time Conn Smythe Trophy winner missed the second half of the 2010-11 season, and the majority of the following season, as he dealt with post-concussion issues.
For a time, during those turbulent years, there were concerns Crosby may never be able to make a full return to the game. He's since said that the work done by neurologists at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre and Ted Carrick, a Canadian chiropractic neurologist, with helping him get back to playing hockey.
"When you get a typical injury you're given a time frame, you're gradually working towards getting back," Crosby said in 2013 when discussing his struggles with head trauma. "With concussions there is not generally a time frame or a span where you're feeling better. You feel like you're getting better and it can be one day and you're back to where you started. It's a frustrating injury and one that anyone has gone through can relate. It's a hard one to understand unless you've gone through it."