Sidney Crosby's Injury Status Will Shape Eastern Conference Playoffs

Michael DulkaContributor IApril 29, 2013

UNIONDALE, NY - MARCH 22:  Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates against t he New York Islanders at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on March 22, 2013 in Uniondale, New York.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Since Sidney Crosby broke his jaw a month ago, the Pittsburgh Penguins have remained competitive with an 8-4 record. Despite finishing strong and earning the top seed in the Eastern Conference, the Penguins need Crosby back in the lineup to fulfill their title hopes. 

According to an Associated Press report (via USA Today), Crosby's status for the postseason opener and onward remain up in the air. 

Penguins star Sidney Crosby practiced Monday but his status remains uncertain for Wednesday's playoff opener against the New York Islanders.

Crosby hasn't played since breaking his jaw a month ago, missing Pittsburgh's final 12 games of the regular season. He underwent dental procedures and was cleared to return to noncontact drills last week. Crosby says he'll see doctors again Tuesday and will not play until he is given clearance.

Whether Crosby is able to return or not will determine how the Eastern Conference playoffs play out. Another big question is how quickly will Crosby return to full strength. 

Not taking the ice in a game for a month might make Crosby a little rusty and require some time to smooth out the kinks. With a serious facial injury, it might take Crosby a bit to fully regain his confidence. 

While the Penguins have proven they are still competitive without Crosby, their hopes of winning multiple series in the playoffs without him are slim. 

The Penguins shouldn't have a problem getting through the the opening round against the New York Islanders. While the Penguins finished the season with a plus-46 goal differential, the Islanders finished even on the season. 

Things get interesting when looking to the second round. With the weaker teams out of the way, the Penguins will be tested. Without the strong play of their star, they could be looking at a second-round exit and an early offseason break. 

Without Crosby back from injury, the Eastern Conference playoffs will be even more wide open than they already are. Teams like the New York Rangers and Boston Bruins might be able to take advantage of a less than full strength Penguins team and advance to the conference finals. 

Eastern favorites like the Montreal Canadiens and Washington Capitals will have one less team to worry about on their quest for the Stanley Cup Finals. 

Should Crosby return and prove himself to be in good health, the Penguins have to be considered the favorite to play for the Cup this postseason. Crosby's leadership had the Penguins playing as one of the best teams in hockey, just behind the Chicago Blackhawks. 

In the Eastern Conference side of the playoff bracket, there is a lot riding on the health of Crosby.