Penguins lose league MVP Crosby for up to 8 weeks

PITTSBURGH -- If Sidney Crosby wants any advice on dealing with the first major injury of his hockey career, he needs only to bring up the subject at the dinner table.

After all, who is better versed on handling a bad injury than Pittsburgh Penguins co-owner Mario Lemieux, the team's longtime but oft-injured star?

Crosby, the NHL's marquee name and the player the Penguins are building a Stanley Cup contender around, learned Tuesday he will be out for six to eight weeks with a high ankle sprain.

The timetable is what the Penguins realistically expected almost from the moment Crosby was hurt during the first period Friday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Still, the 20-year-old Crosby thought his age and superb conditioning might allow him to return sooner.

"I was hoping three or four weeks would be the most," Crosby said, talking publicly Tuesday for the first time since being hurt. "It doesn't look like it will be like that. We'll see how fast I heal."

If Crosby is out for eight weeks, or until mid-March, he would miss most of the remaining regular season. That would be major setback to the Penguins, who are locked in a three-way race with the New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers for the Atlantic Division lead.

The Penguins are 10-1-2 in their last 13 games but are only 1-2-3 in the six games they've played without Crosby the last three seasons.

Still, the Penguins are very familiar with coping with the loss of a major star to a major injury. It happened repeatedly to Lemieux as he sat out the equivalent of 9½ seasons due to back problems, cancer, a heart condition and other injuries during a Hall of Fame career that began in 1984 and ended in 2006.

"His injuries were a little different from mine -- cancer and life-threatening things are a little different," said Crosby, who lives in Lemieux's house during the season. "But he's definitely someone who knows. We'll see if I need to pick his brain at some point."

The injury comes at a bad time for the league, with Crosby expected to be the big drawing card at Sunday's All-Star Game in Atlanta. Crosby was tied for the league scoring lead with 63 points when he was hurt.

Crosby, the league's reigning scoring champion and MVP, will stay back in Pittsburgh to rest and won't attend the game as a spectator. Penguins teammate Evgeni Malkin was chosen as Crosby's All-Star replacement.

Other athletes who have had a high ankle sprain -- it is common in the NFL -- say it is frustrating because rehabilitation alone can't cure it and considerable rest is needed.

"The big thing with this is time. You really can't do very much," said Crosby, who will wear a protective boot for about two weeks. "Right now, it's just pretty much sit and wait."

Or exactly what Crosby didn't want to be doing as teams begin to separate themselves in the Eastern Conference playoff race. In the 12 most recent games he played before getting hurt, Crosby had five goals and 15 assists for 20 points.

"It's not fun watching, you wish you were out there," said Crosby, who viewed Pittsburgh's 6-5 shootout loss to Washington on Monday night from Lemieux's private box. "Especially with the adversity our team has. We have a lot of injuries right now, and guys are battling through it."

The Penguins are currently without goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (ankle), forwards Gary Roberts (broken leg) and Colby Armstrong (bruised hip) and defenseman Mark Eaton (knee, out for the season).

Fleury offers proof of how difficult it can be to predict how long a player will be sidelined with a high ankle sprain, a ligament injury that occurs about an inch above the ankle and often is very painful.

Fleury hasn't played since Dec. 6, or nearly seven weeks, and is not yet ready to play. He also expected to be out six to eight weeks.

Crosby has a return date in his mind but doesn't plan to share it.

"This is probably something that's tougher mentally than anything I've dealt with," he said. "I don't think you want to get caught looking at a date and then you get to that date and you're not ready to go."

Until now, Crosby has never missed more than two weeks with an injury at any stage of his short but brilliant amateur and professional career. Though he may not play again until mid-March, Crosby plans to spend considerable time with his teammates.

"I can't go into the dressing room pouting or be in a grumpy mood. I can't be coming in every day like that," Crosby said. "I can't feel sorry for myself and I don't expect anyone else to. I'm going to do everything I can off the ice to help."

Crosby was hurt after he skated into the Lightning zone about 7½ minutes into Friday's game and threw a backhander on the net from the right circle. Even while losing his balance as he became tangled with Tampa Bay's Paul Ranger, he took another swipe at the puck as he skidded on his rear end toward the end boards.

"Usually, I hit with my feet and my legs come up," he said. "My left foot hit and went up, but my right foot stuck in the boards. There's nothing you can do about it. It's just bad luck."