Nathan MacKinnon and Sidney Crosby have forged a strong friendship over the years. Both are from Nova Scotia, both were the top overall pick in the NHL draft — albeit eight years apart — and they train together in the offseason.
For the next couple of games, they will put their friendship aside, starting Saturday when the Colorado Avalanche host the Pittsburgh Penguins for a matinee matchup. The teams meet again in Pittsburgh on Tuesday night to complete the season series.
Both teams stand in solid position for the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Penguins (41-18-10, 92 points) are third in the Metropolitan Division and on track to face the New York Rangers in the first round. Colorado (48-14-6, 102 points) is on pace to win the Presidents’ Trophy for the second straight season.
While securing the best record is important, MacKinnon wants what his friend has — a Stanley Cup ring. Crosby has won three championships for Pittsburgh — 2009, 2016 and 2017 — and has a realistic chance for a fourth.
The Avalanche have been the favorite to win the Cup this year despite dealing with injuries to key players. Gabriel Landeskog is out after knee surgery, and Samuel Girard has missed the past 10 games with a lower-body injury.
Nazem Kadri, who leads the team in scoring with 83 points, did not practice Friday. He took a big hit against San Jose on Thursday, left the game but returned. The team said he was being evaluated on Friday.
Colorado caught a big break when an injury to MacKinnon that at first was considered serious kept him out of just one game. He appeared to hurt his hand in a fight with Minnesota’s Matt Dumba on Saturday night.
“It’s hockey. It’s a physical sport,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. “It would be like telling a linebacker in football, ‘Hey, you know, we’re almost in the playoffs so make sure you don’t hit anybody hard. You might hurt your shoulder.'”
While Colorado has locked up the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, barring a collapse, the Penguins can move up from third in the division. They trail first-place Carolina by six points with 13 games left.
They might have to go the rest of the season without Jason Zucker, who returned to the lineup in a 4-3 overtime win at the Minnesota Wild on Thursday but left with an injury believed to be to his groin. Zucker appeared in only one game since Dec. 19 before Thursday with a core injury and then was hit into the boards.
It will be a blow to Pittsburgh if he is out for an extended period.
“It was awful. You obviously hate to see it,” goaltender Casey DeSmith said. “We see him working hard every day, rehabbing and trying to get back as fast as he can. So just to have that happen in his first game back was pretty heartbreaking.”
–Field Level Media