For the third year in a row the Blackhawks won't have to worry about playing the Pittsburgh Penguins with Sidney Crosby in the lineup.
Crosby, injured when it was time to face the Hawks in the last two regular seasons, hasn't played since Jan. 5 because of a concussion, and there still is no timetable for his return.
The last time Crosby spoke with reporters he even admitted there was a chance he could be done for the season.
"That could happen," Crosby said. "But am I sitting and packing it in? No, I hope to be back, but that's the thing with these things. You don't know."
The Penguins are a banged-up bunch but still with somewhat of a comfortable hold on fourth place in the Eastern Conference.
Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh's other superstar center, is done for the year following knee surgery while five other regulars are sidelined with injuries: Chris Kunitz, Mark Letestu, Arron Asham, Mike Comrie and Eric Tangradi.
The Penguins have battled on through injuries, suspensions and the aftermath of the recent brawl with the New York Islanders.
"It seems there have been many other topics on the forefront," coach Dan Bylsma said. "That is something we have to get back in our room, putting everything aside and dealing with adversity."
The Penguins have remained in a good spot in the East thanks to their 25-11-3 start, which is the record they took into the Winter Classic on New Year's Day.
Crosby took his first blow to the head in that game from Washington's David Steckel. He played a few days later and took another hit to the head from Tampa Bay's Victor Hedman before being shut down.
Crosby was off to such a phenomenal start that he still was fifth in the league scoring going into the weekend with 32 goals and 66 points despite missing the last 18 games.
The Hawks need wins more than the Penguins do, especially after Friday's crushing 4-3 loss to Columbus at the United Center.
The chances of making the playoffs look worse and worse for the Hawks every day, but they aren't ready to admit how high the hill might be to climb.
"We're still a confident team," Hawks winger Patrick Sharp said. "We know the position we're in and that we have to win games. We still have to hold our heads up here. We know what we can do in this room, and it's about time we start proving it."
This will be a battle of the last two Stanley Cup champions, which means the Penguins understand the different pressures the Hawks have faced this season.
"If you have ever won a Stanley Cup you know what the hangover is all about," Penguins winger and ex-Hawk Craig Adams told reporters Saturday. "It's really hard to put your finger on it, but it is definitely there, and they are dealing with it this year.
"And with their big roster turnover, it makes it a bit tougher."
Bylsma said he talked to Hawks coach Joel Quenneville last summer about the pitfalls that await Cup winners. The Penguins, who hoisted the Cup in 2009, at least made the playoffs last season before losing in the second round.
"We've been through some of the emotions, thoughts and difficulties dealing with being a Stanley Cup champion," Bylsma said. "I had a chance to talk to Coach Q about that early in the off-season. I haven't talked to him about it recently.
"They've gone through different stretches of the year with injuries and they're right there in the mix. If they go on a winning streak you'll be talking about a different story real quickly."