PITTSBURGH &

Sidney Crosby's high ankle sprain will force him to miss Sunday's NHL All-Star game and six to eight weeks of the season, a major setback that means the Pittsburgh Penguins must play most of their remaining schedule without the league's marquee player.




Crosby, the leading All-Star vote-getter, injured his right ankle Friday during the Penguins' 3-0 loss to Tampa Bay. If he takes eight weeks to heal &

and the recovery time for such an injury can vary greatly &

he would return in mid-March, with only about three weeks of the schedule remaining.




"I was hoping three to four weeks would be the most," Crosby said, talking today for the first time since he was hurt.




Crosby said he must be careful not to rush back and "tweak it a lot, and then we're back to square one. ... Right now, it's all about healing."




Team physician Charles Burke confirmed the injury was a high ankle sprain, but Crosby said there was no bone damage, which would have meant an even longer layoff.




"It hasn't sunk in yet," the 20-year-old Crosby said of the injury, the worst he's had since he began his hockey career. "It's going to be mentally tough as we go along (and he can't play)."




The Penguins placed their captain on the injured list Monday, a procedural move that allowed them to add an extra forward for their final two games before the break. The move was retroactive to Friday.




Other athletes who have had a high ankle sprain &

it is common in the NFL &

say it is frustrating because rehabilitation alone can't cure it and considerable rest is needed.




"The pain has eased a little as it goes along," said Crosby, who can't do his normal conditioning and strength-building routine while he is hurt.




Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, for example, has been out since Dec. 6 with a high ankle sprain and is not yet ready to return. When Fleury was hurt, it was estimated he would return in six to eight weeks, the same prognosis given Crosby.




"But I can't go into the dressing room pouting, or be in a grumpy mood," Crosby said. "I can't be coming in every day like that. I can't feel sorry for myself. I have to be there to support the team."




The Penguins, 10-1-2 in their last 13 games despite losing 6-5 in a shootout against Washington on Monday night, own a a one-point lead in the Atlantic Division, though they will lose it Tuesday night to the winner of the Devils-Flyers game.




Crosby, last season's NHL scoring champion and MVP, shared the league lead with 63 points (20 goals, 43 assists) when he was hurt while crashing into the boards Friday. The injury effectively eliminates any chance Crosby has of retaining his scoring title.




Crosby is disappointed he will miss Sunday's All-Star game in Atlanta.




Crosby's longest layoff from hockey until now was a two-week break with a shoulder injury during his amateur career. He broke his left foot last March, but played the final 21/2 weeks of the season and the Penguins' only playoff round without missing any games.