The Pittsburgh Penguins were dealt a major blow when center Evgeni Malkin tore his MCL and ACL, ending his season after Buffalo Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers fell awkwardly into his right leg while killing a penalty.
This happened at the start of the second period. Malkin had only one period under his belt after missing five games with a knee injury and sinus infection.
Keeping in mind the injury plague that has overcome the Pens' dressing room, this news is especially frustrating.
However, despite the mandatory panic creeping throughout the minds of Pens fans, this season is not over. People forget how well the Pens have been doing without captain Sidney Crosby, Malkin and Mark Letestu. Before that, the Pens played admirably without the services of Jordan Staal for the first half of the season.
People also forget how many fans and analysts were tearing apart Malkin's game at the beginning of the season when he was injury-free. This was pegged as his worst season in the NHL, picking up where he left off last season with a lackluster effort in all aspects of his game.
In all honestly, this hasn't been Malkin's best season. He's played with a lull in his step and definitely has put in a consistent effort each game.
Yet, the Pens still managed to accomplish plenty with Malkin not playing his best.
Don't get me wrong, losing Malkin is a huge blow to the Pens, especially since he does find a way to turn it up during the playoffs.
But it certainly isn't the end of the world.
This Pens team has been playing without key players all season. They have certainly become accustomed to the gaps in the roster and have demonstrated that it doesn't take a full roster with their star players to win games.
They just have to keep rolling with it.
There is no timetable for Crosby's return, but the fact that he has resumed light off-ice workouts is a good sign that his return is in sight.
With how Crosby was playing at the start of the season, anyone who thinks Crosby is going to put his foot off the gas is a fool. Give him time to find his feet and he'll be back in action, especially since he knows he will have to carry the team moreso now that Malkin's season is over.
He did it before, and he can certainly do it again now that the overall skill level on the rosters has dropped significantly.
Most importantly, and I noted this in a previous slideshow when Malkin and Crosby went down with injuries, the entire Pens team needs to step up their game and play with nothing to lose.
They have already faced a huge amount of adversity and improved because of it. Knowing that they're down a huge asset to the team, the Pens can truly lay it all on the line and play some desperate hockey to ensure they make it in the playoffs.
Once again, we've seen them play this way without Crosby and Malkin. They can do it again even with Crosby in the lineup because that's his approach every time he takes the ice.
Note that the trade deadline is approaching fast. I'm sure GM Ray Shero has something up his sleeve.
In a strange way, the pressure is off the Pens to an extent, and I feel this happens any time a star player on a team faces a long-term injury. The difference maker is, who on the team will pick up the slack?
Every single player in the locker room knows his importance to the team just grew. It has come to the point where each player must be that person.
Especially without Crosby, wins have become a total team effort each night. Keeping it up will only bring good things.
Keep in mind that in the playoffs, total team efforts are the only way to bring home Lord Stanley. The Pens are getting a taste of this much sooner than many other teams.
If the Pens can exorcise this demon as they have the entire season, then it will be the best thing to happen to this team and certainly bad news for the teams who will face them in the playoffs.
Laura Falcon is a Featured Columnist for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Follow her on Twitter or email her at [email protected] with any comments or questions.