-- About a dozen Pittsburgh players jumped on the ice at Southpointe Iceoplex for Tuesday's optional practice. The second one out, however, was the most important -- defenseman Sergei Gonchar
Gonchar hasn't played since injuring his right knee in a collision with Capitals forward Alexander Ovechkin late in the first period of Game 4. Tuesday was his first time on the ice since he was helped off following the knee-to-knee hit.
Gonchar went through all the drills, but rarely pushed off with his right leg. When asked if he was still having any difficulties, he replied, "Obviously I have some, otherwise I would have been playing (Monday)."
In a short session with reporters, Gonchar was guarded about the condition of his knee, saying he felt Tuesday didn't matter very much.
"It doesn't really matter, because tomorrow (Wednesday) is the day I have to make the decision, so tomorrow we'll see how my body reacts and tomorrow is the day we have the game, so I'm waiting until tomorrow and I'll make the decision," Gonchar said.
"I think he looked good out there," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma
said. "He's been progressing and we knew at some point he'd be getting back on the ice. This is a first step and we'll see how he reacts. We'll probably see him out there again tomorrow and we'll go from there."
Gonchar said any decisions about his chances to play in Game 7 Wednesday would be decided on game day.
"I can be as optimistic as 100 percent right now," Gonchar said, "but tomorrow if I wake up and my knee's not bending, it doesn't matter. That's why we have to wait until tomorrow and make my decision tomorrow."
The Penguins have played seven defensemen in Gonchar's absence, with Alex Goligoski
taking Gonchar's spot at the point on the power play, and Philippe Boucher
picking up some of the even-strength shifts Gonchar would get. Bylsma has been satisfied with how both players performed, and could go with seven defensemen again if Gonchar can play.
"In this situation, it's been advantageous to us to have seven (defensemen)," Bylsma said. "It's going to be an evaluation of where we think we're at. It's a possibility if Sergei can play (Wednesday) night."
The hope among the players, of course, is to see Gonchar in the lineup.
"He looked pretty good, he always does," defenseman Hal Gill
said. "He's a good player, good on the power play. We'll see how it goes. We have a plan with him in the lineup and we have a plan with him not being in. We'll see what happens."
"It would be great (to have him back)," said Sidney Crosby
. "We're not expecting it but it would be great if he could get out there, for obvious reasons. He's a big part of our team.
"Any time you see a guy go down it's not a good feeling. Seeing them be able to get back in the lineup, especially for a big game like this, it would be a big boost."
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com.