But in this game, the final score is merely a footnote.
The big story is the injury to defending league MVP Evgeni Malkin, who was knocked off his feet with 15:09 remaining in the third period by Panthers defenseman Erik Gudbranson. Malkin slid backward at an extremely high rate of speed into the boards. His back struck first, causing his neck to whip violently backward and propelling his head into the dasher.
Malkin remained on the ice for about a minute before skating off under his own power
“I just finished my check,” Gudbranson said, per Rob Rossi of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “You never want to see a guy go down. He’s in a vulnerable position. But you can’t pass up a hit.”
The hit was clean, to be sure, but the result could be devastating for the Penguins.
Rossi, writing on his Chipped Ice blog this morning, revealed that Malkin “is experiencing concussion symptoms, including severe headache and mild disorientation.” Rossi confirmed this report with several sources within the Penguins organization.
Penguins fans know all too well what it’s like to see a franchise player go down with a concussion. Nobody needs to be reminded of Sidney Crosby’s arduous road back from the concussion he suffered in the 2011 Winter Classic.
But while it took Crosby well over a year to fully recover from his injury, there are reasons to be optimistic that Malkin will be back sooner.
If any good has come from concussions suffered by Crosby, Marc Savard and Chris Pronger (just to name a few), it is that the NHL and team physicians have reexamined how they approach the often-unpredictable head injury. A main reason Crosby missed so much time with his injury is that he suffered another concussion just two days after the initial one.
There is no chance of this happening to Malkin. The Penguins and the NHL have learned far too much to try to rush a player back so quickly.
For all the holes in the NHL’s concussion in-game protocol, there’s a chance Malkin would have attempted to come back into the game following the hit had he been allowed to stay on the bench. The NHL mandates that players who may have been concussed must be evaluated by a physician and spend time in a dark room to help avail the concussion symptoms.
This rule was not in place in 2011 when Crosby was hit by David Steckel at the end of the second period in the Winter Classic. Crosby played the third period, possibly exacerbating the effects of the injury.
With all that has been learned over the past several years, one is left with the feeling that Malkin will be able to make a smooth and speedy recovery. That said, concussions are hard to evaluate and even harder to treat.
This isn’t like an ACL tear for which there is a fairly standard timetable for recovery. With a concussion, the only treatment is rest, rest and more rest. And when you’ve think you’ve rested enough, you rest a little more. Too often we have seen the effects of rushing back from this dangerous brain injury.
Even if it means the Penguins play without Malkin the rest of this season, the important thing is that he recovers fully before trying to play again.