Somehow, Pittsburgh, Carolina and Dallas have gotten by without arguably the most important players in its lineups for an extended period of time.
The Penguins were without their young captain against Buffalo on Wednesday night. Crosby suffered pain during the team's morning skate earlier in the day, a residual effect since returning from a 21-game absence because of a high ankle sprain. Instead of going into a tailspin, Pittsburgh rallied around Evgeni Malkin and Ty Conklin to go 11-6-4 without Crosby, and proceeded to throttle the Sabres, who have their own injury problems.
Brind'Amour, rarely injured throughout his 18-year career, has been missing for Carolina since tearing his left anterior cruciate ligament on Feb. 14. Unlike Crosby, who is listed as day-to-day, Brind'Amour is done for the season. Despite losing the player who led them in scoring at the time, the Hurricanes have gone 9-2-1 since the injury to take control of the Southeast Division.
Zubov, the slick-skating, puck-moving veteran Dallas defenseman, has not resumed skating following surgery late last month on his foot. Doctors inserted a screw to help Zubov's foot fracture heal faster. The Stars have gone 16-7 during the 37-year-old's absence.
All three teams are bucking the trend when it comes to losing key players to injury, but it still could catch up to them. These are just three examples of teams missing key cogs as they head into the final weeks of the regular season.
While a number of teams in the playoff hunt have avoided significant injuries – the Calgary Flames, Montreal Canadiens, New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers and Phoenix Coyotes – others have not been as fortunate. A look at what other contenders are battling follows:
Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks' offense was dealt a blow when third-year forward Corey Perry suffered a lacerated tendon above his right knee, the result of getting cut by the skate of Colorado goalie Jose Theodore. Anaheim has been struggling all season to assemble two scoring lines, and coach Randy Carlyle is experimenting again to try to replace his team's leading goal-scorer. Teemu Selanne is taking Perry's place alongside Ryan Getzlaf, but that will put pressure on Todd Bertuzzi and Doug Weight to produce.
Boston Bruins: The Bruins have played the last two games without their hulking captain on defense, Zdeno Chara, who is out with an undisclosed upper-body injury. Chara, a likely candidate for the Norris Trophy, logs an average of 27 minutes a game. That's a lot of time to replace, especially when it comes from one of the best defensemen in the East. And don't forget Patrice Bergeron, the team's top center who has been out for all but the first 10 games.
Buffalo Sabres: The Sabres have to be saying, 'Not again' with the recent news they have lost defensemen Jaroslav Spacek and Dmitri Kalinin on the heels of trading No. 1 blue liner Brian Campbell at the deadline. Injuries decimated Buffalo's defense late in the postseason last year. Spacek could miss the remainder of the regular season due to an undiagnosed chest injury and Kalinin is out for up to two weeks with a shoulder injury.
Carolina Hurricanes: It's not only Brind'Amour, but the Hurricanes are also missing right wing Justin Williams (torn ACL/MCL), left wing Chad LaRose (broken leg) and defenseman David Tanabe (concussion). Eric Staal has been carrying this team since Brind'Amour went down.
Colorado Avalanche: The Avalanche haven't had a lot of luck with their deadline acquisitions and three are injured. Forward Peter Forsberg (groin) joins defensemen Adam Foote (hip) and Ruslan Salei (eye) as day-to-day. Defenseman Jordan Leopold (concussion) is also expected to be available soon as only defenseman Brett Clark remains more long term with a dislocated shoulder. Colorado has recalled journeyman defenseman and former first-round pick Jeff Jillson to bolster an ailing backline. The team also lost forward Marek Svatos to a season-ending injury (torn ACL that required surgery) in early March.
Dallas Stars: The Stars are hurting on their blue line, too, and not just because of Zubov's absence. Philippe Boucher has a slightly separated shoulder and isn't expected to see action before April. Rookie Matt Niskanen is out with a sore foot. Both average in excess of 20 minutes of ice time a game. Dallas sure is happy it didn't have to part with Mark Fistric in its big deal with Tampa Bay. Mattias Norstrom, Stephane Robidas and Trevor Daley can expect more minutes.
Detroit Red Wings: It was a good thing they had a big pad in points in the overall standings. Defensemen Nicklas Lidstrom, Niklas Kronwall, Brian Rafalski and Chris Chelios all missed time. Left wing Tomas Holmstrom is nursing a groin injury that is not expected to keep him out more than a week or 10 days at most.
Nashville Predators: The Predators are going to need everyone if they're going to sneak into the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, and right now they're without center David Legwand (bruised foot), left wing Martin Gelinas (knee sprain) and right wing Steve Sullivan (back surgery). Sullivan has been out all season and his injury has to be considered career threatening at this point for the 33-year-old since he's had back problems for most of the last two years.
Ottawa Senators: Only pesky forward Chris Neil (knee) is on injured reserve, but captain Daniel Alfredsson has missed four straight games due to a back injury. The Senators' psyche might have suffered the biggest injury along the way as the team that was so dominant during the opening three months of the season is still very much trying to rediscover confidence and results.
Philadelphia Flyers: The Flyers have gone through a tough stretch with injuries that have improved recently, but they still played Wednesday without top forwards Mike Richards (hamstring) and Simon Gagne (concussion). Richards has missed nine straight while Gagne, limited to 25 games, has been out the last 16. Joffrey Lupul returned to the lineup Wednesday after missing 13 straight.
Pittsburgh Penguins: The Penguins have been hit hard, but might be a stronger team because of the adversity they're battling. Marian Hossa, the expensive rental acquired from Atlanta, has still been limited to just 10 minutes before injuring a knee. He's missed six games since. Forwards Petr Sykora dressed Wednesday, although he's not 100 percent. Maxime Talbot missed his 19th game Wednesday because of an ankle sprain that has flared up three times since November, and four veterans are on injured reserve – Gary Roberts (broken leg), Mark Eaton (torn ACL), Kris Beech (broken wrist) and Adam Hall (hernia).
San Jose Sharks: The Sharks hope to get versatile winger Ryane Clowe back from early-season knee surgery in time for the postseason. Veteran checker Curtis Brown is still nursing a broken arm. And veteran defenseman Kyle McLaren continues to play through a troublesome left knee upon which he had an arthroscopic procedure done at midseason.
Vancouver Canucks: The Canucks were happy to get Kevin Bieksa back recently, but their blue line is still lacking as Aaron Miller (shoulder), Sami Salo (undisclosed) and Lukas Krajicek (shoulder) are all out. Goalie Roberto Luongo could use all the help he can get as he's otherwise trying to carry Vancouver into the playoffs on his own.
Washington Capitals: The Capitals lost a couple of key forwards in mid-January – Michael Nylander (torn rotator cuff) and Chris Clark (groin) – but have managed to hang in the race, although they face an uphill battle since Carolina has caught fire. Defenseman Brian Pothier (upper body) and center Dave Steckel (finger) remain out.