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Keys to Success

Fleury's health key to Penguins' success

Goalie, out since April 1, could return to face Rangers in first round

by Jon Lane @JonLaneNHL / Staff Writer

The Stanley Cup Playoffs begin this week with 16 teams battling to claim hockey's greatest prize. Here are the CFP Keys to Success for two teams squaring off in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference First Round on Wednesday: The New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins (8 p.m. ET; USA, SN, TVA Sports, MSG, ROOT).

The big question facing the Penguins was the health of their No. 1 goaltender, but Marc-Andre Fleury is on the mend after he returned to practice Monday for the first time since being diagnosed with a concussion April 1. Fleury said he's feeling good and has been symptom-free the past few days but would not commit to starting Game 1.

"I skated by myself the past few days, so it was good to get out there with the guys," said Fleury, who was 35-17-6 with a 2.29 goals-against average and .921 save percentage in the regular season. "Just [taking it] one day at a time. It was my first practice."

If Fleury is cleared for Game 1, it will be a huge boost for the Penguins, who could be using Jeff Zatkoff as the backup if not the starter. Goalie Matthew Murray went 4-0-0 after Fleury was injured, but coach Mike Sullivan said he's day-to-day with an upper-body injury.

"Day-to-day" is what Sullivan also used to describe defenseman Olli Maatta (lower body) and forwards Evgeni Malkin (upper body), Beau Bennett (undisclosed) and Bryan Rust (lower body). The coach wouldn't say if any of his injured players will be available for Game 1, but it will be key for the Penguins defense if Maatta is ready. Maatta was often paired with Kris Letang to form Pittsburgh's top duo.

Besides the injuries, the Penguins have a psychological hurdle to overcome in the first round. Though the Penguins went 33-16-5 since Sullivan took over as coach, they've been eliminated from the playoffs by the Rangers the past two years and are 1-7 against New York in the postseason since Game 4 of their second-round series in 2014.

Video: First Round Preview: Penguins vs Rangers

Like the Penguins, key for the Rangers will be overcoming their share of injuries. They won't, however, have defenseman Ryan McDonagh for the start of the first round. New York's captain was injured April 4 during a 4-2 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets when a puck hit him in the right hand. He skated before practice Monday wearing a non-contact jersey but did not take shots.

"I think he is day-to-day," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "He is definitely not going to start and he is day-to-day."

Rookie Brady Skjei played the Rangers' final four regular-season games in place of McDonagh and could get the call for Game 1. Defenseman Dan Girardi, who missed the last two games with an upper-body injury, also skated before and after practice, and Vigneault expects him to take part in a full practice Tuesday.

Any success the Rangers enjoy begins and ends with goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who provided a brief scare when he twice left practice Monday. Vigneault, though, said Lundqvist will be fine to practice Tuesday and start Game 1 on Wednesday.

"He just wasn't feeling well," Vigneault said. "I told him to get off the ice. We didn't need him for anything today."

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