Injuries to Pronger, Crosby affecting couple Bruins’ bigger Eastern rivals

Pronger/By S. Bradley

There were a couple bits of injury news yesterday that might interest the Bruins if they allow themselves to think about something other than how to break to their four-game losing streak.

While Philadelphia announced that star defenseman Chris Pronger is scheduled to have surgery on his right hand and miss up to four weeks of game action, Pittsburgh revealed that superstar Sidney Crosby skated for the first time since being held out due to a concussion. Crosby hasn’t played since Jan. 5.

The Pronger injury might not be as damaging to the Flyers’ chances at hanging onto the top spot in the Eastern Conference as some might hope. As Sam Carchidi of the Philadelphia Inquirer points out:

Because of various injuries, Pronger has missed 18 games this season. The Flyers are 31-14-5 with Pronger this season, and 11-5-2 without him.

So as valuable as Pronger is, the Flyers have found ways to not only survive — but thrive — without him. That’s why they’ve maintained first place in the East almost all season. The Bruins start play tonight six points back of the Flyers for first, which is still a long shot to make up, especially the way Boston has played of late. Should Philadelphia sputter at all, however, it could hurt the Flyers’ momentum heading into the playoffs even if it doesn’t cost them their spot in the standings.

Pittsburgh is another team that has thrived without an injured star. In fact, the Penguins have learned how to survive without two of the best players in the entire league, as they’ve been without Crosby and Evgeni Malkin for quite some time. Yet they’re still in fourth in the East, a point ahead of Tampa Bay and just three points back of the Flyers for first in the Atlantic Division and the East.

The Penguins admit that Crosby’s time on the ice was just a small step toward a return that at best would occur weeks down the road, but the skate definitely opened a door that many were starting to speculate was closed. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review put it this way:

By all accounts, however, Crosby’s return to the ice is relevant on two levels: First and foremost, his health is improving, and there is now at least reason to believe that he may play again this season.

The way things are going for the Bruins, they could easily drop into that four-five match-up in the playoffs, which could mean a best-of-seven series with the Pens. Boston has had its problems with the Crosby-less Penguins, so taking on a that team after the return of a guy who was putting together a Hart Trophy-worthy season before his injury could mean a tougher first-round test than most Stanley Cup contenders usually have to pass.

Eyes all over the NHL will be on Crosby’s every move from here on out. The Bruins should be among the observers if not in terms of a first-round meeting, then because of the potential for a meeting farther on down the road.

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