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Evgeni Malkin to return for Penguins in Game 1

Forward will play against Blue Jackets after missing past 13 games with upper-body injury

by Wes Crosby / Correspondent

CRANBERRY, Pa. -- Forward Evgeni Malkin will return for the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference First Round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets at PPG Paints Arena on Wednesday (7:30 p.m. ET; USA, SN360, TVA Sports 3, ROOT, FS-O).

"I will play tomorrow, for sure," Malkin said. "A couple extra days for me. … I'm ready to play."

Malkin, 30, missed the final 13 games of the regular season with an upper-body injury.

Malkin took part in a full-contact practice Tuesday and coach Mike Sullivan confirmed the forward would play in Game 1.

He skated between left wing Bryan Rust and right wing Phil Kessel during practice. Malkin also returned to the top power-play unit with Sidney Crosby, Patric Hornqvist, Justin Schultz and Kessel, who said he is excited to start the Stanley Cup Playoffs playing with Malkin.

"[Malkin is] one of the best players in the world," Kessel said. "Whenever he's in the lineup, we're a better team. … He's special, right? You watch what he does. He's a top-tier player and I'm sure he'll be ready to go [Wednesday] night."

Video: Penguins vs Blue Jackets First Round Preview

Malkin was second on the Penguins behind Crosby with 72 points (33 goals, 39 assists), including 23 power-play points (11 goals, 12 assists), despite missing 20 games this season. (Crosby had 89 points; 44 goals, 45 assists).

Malkin said he is satisfied with his shot after missing nearly a month.

"I shoot hard," Malkin said. "Slap shot, everything I tried today. We played power play and with the one-timers, with all of the shots, I feel so much better today. … It's tough in the first game back after a long time of not playing, but I'll try to do my best and try to help my linemates."

Malkin said he isn't sure when he'll feel completely comfortable during a game.

"Three weeks is a long time," he said of his absence. "I hope it's in like the first game. I try to do my best. It's not easy, but what are you going to do? Just play."

Malkin last played against the Philadelphia Flyers on March 15. He sustained the injury while blocking a shot against the Calgary Flames two days earlier but attempted to play through it.

After playing 17:24 against Philadelphia, Malkin joined Pittsburgh for the morning skate prior to a road game against the New Jersey Devils on March 17. But he left a few minutes into the skate, and Sullivan said afterward that Malkin would not play against New Jersey.

Video: PIT@CGY: Malkin finishes off give-and-go for PPG

Malkin took full contact during practice March 18 but said he didn't feel well enough to return. He missed a second consecutive game against the Florida Panthers on March 19. After that game, Malkin skated mostly with other injured players prior to practices and morning skates before joining the Penguins on Tuesday.

Though Malkin could return, Pittsburgh will be without forwards Carl Hagelin and Chris Kunitz, and defenseman Chad Ruhwedel on Wednesday. None of the three practiced Tuesday.

Hagelin, who is day to day, has not played since sustaining a lower-body injury on March 10. Kunitz has missed five games with a lower-body injury. Ruhwedel is day to day with an upper-body injury; he hasn't played since Thursday.

Sullivan said there is a real chance Hagelin could play in the first round. He skated on his own Tuesday.

"He's making progress," Sullivan said. "Obviously, the next step is when he joins our team in practice."

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