Saturday, April 27, 2013
Penguins getting healthier for playoffs?
By Luke Lapinski
UPDATE: Looks like two recovering Pittsburgh Penguins will get a one-game warm-up before the playoffs. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports both defenseman Paul Martin (broken thumb) and winger James Neal (concussion) will return to the lineup for Saturday's game against the Carolina Hurricanes.
Earlier this week, Martin was expected back for Thursday's game against the New Jersey Devils.
*** As we detailed last week, the Pittsburgh Penguins have no intention of rushing any of their star players back. There's simply no reason to do so. They've already locked up the top spot in the East, so their final four regular season games really only impact their opponents. And, of the clubs left on the schedule, only tonight's foe -- Ottawa -- is vying for a playoff spot.
That said, it certainly wouldn't hurt to have a few key players make their returns before the puck drops on the playoffs, if at all possible. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and Paul Martin are all vital to the club's chances at a deep run, and it's always easier to shake some rust off before the first game of a grueling playoff series. Pittsburgh may not have that luxury, but all four players did at least skate before the rest of their teammates hit the ice on Sunday. Malkin and Neal were even able to stay for practice, though Neal only did a few drills and neither of them traveled to Ottawa for tonight's tilt with the Senators.
The question now is who will be ready when the games really count in just over a week? Dan Bylsma said his sidelined players are "progressing", but still no specific timetable has been set. The Pens are absolutely loaded -- to the point where they've won six straight, even without many of their top weapons. When healthy, they've looked borderline unstoppable, going 21-2 since the end of February. This is a group that should challenge for the Cup, but they'll need to get some guys back when the second season starts. Particularly if they have to face a potentially dangerous team like the New York Rangers -- a club that boasts strong goaltending and could be finding its stride after an underachieving regular season.