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Penguins' Dupuis has memorable return to lineup

by Wes Crosby

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Penguins forward Pascal Dupuis said Thursday he believed he had a lot to prove heading into the Penguins' season opener against the Anaheim Ducks. After one goal and three assists in the Penguins' 6-4 victory, he proved as much as he could in a single game.

"It didn't feel too bad," Dupuis said Thursday.

He'll have a chance to create more good feelings Saturday when the Penguins play the Toronto Maple Leafs (7 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, CBC).

Questions surrounded Dupuis, a 35-year-old in his 14th NHL season, who played Wednesday for the first time since tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee Dec. 23, 2013. Two months later he had surgery to repair the tear and missed the final 43 games of the regular season and all 13 Stanley Cup Playoff games.

Dupuis' absence left a hole on Pittsburgh's top line, where he played right wing alongside center Sidney Crosby and left wing Chis Kunitz, but also in the locker room, where he was known for his vibrant personality.

New Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford said during his introductory press conference that he thought Pittsburgh's locker room might have been too quiet in the latter part of last season, something that could have been attributed to the loss of Dupuis.

"As Pascal is, he's an energy player," coach Mike Johnston said Thursday. "He's a positive energy guy on the bench and he's a positive energy guy in the room. And I just thought he gave us a big lift [Thursday]. A big lift.

"Obviously the points are the points. But I just thought on the ice he was skating well … certainly for him it's nice to see him back and it's nice to see him respond in that way."

Prior to training camp Dupuis last spoke in May, at the Penguins' locker cleanout day following their seven-game loss to the New York Rangers in an Eastern Conference Second Round series. He said then his aim was to be ready for opening night.

About five months later Dupuis had one of the most productive games of his career.

"It was a long time coming," Dupuis said. "There's games like that where everything is rolling and it seemed to be one of those. … It's definitely been a while [since he had a four-point] game, but this one, just coming back in the first game, it's pretty big."

His other four-point game came when he had four assists March 25, 2004, playing for the Minnesota Wild against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Dupuis did not return to Crosby's right wing Thursday; newly acquired forward Patric Hornqvist filled that role. Instead he played left wing with center Brandon Sutter and right wing Evgeni Malkin.

The line seemed to gel well, with each scoring at least one point. Dupuis assisted on Sutter's shorthanded goal 1:01 into the third period and Malkin got the secondary assist on Dupuis' goal at 13:14 of the first period that gave the Penguins a 3-0 lead.

"It's a very big performance," Malkin said Friday. "I remember my injury; it was the same. We see how he smiles; we see how hungry [he is] because he hasn't played in a long time. I'm glad for him and he's a very important player for our team.

"I hope he plays the same in every game."

Dupuis said his goal Thursday was emotional but he credited his teammates for making it easier for him.

"It felt good to get the first goal," Dupuis said. "To me, I think those two games in the preseason were huge. I knew what to expect, knew how hard it was going to be. Obviously the level went up a couple of notches for the first game but it felt great. It's great to get the first one out of the way, first win.

"It was a big team effort."

After that 3-0 lead, the Ducks tied the game 3-3 at 12:17 of the second period. But Crosby and forward Blake Comeau scored 54 seconds apart to give the Penguins a 5-3 lead.

Dupuis carried the puck into the offensive zone and assisted on each goal.

"I think you're just really happy to see him do well," Crosby said. "It's been a long time and we know how hard he's worked to get back to feeling and looking the way he does. But also, to start on time, it's not easy to come back from an injury and play in Game One of the season.

"So I'm really happy to see him do well and he's worked hard for it."

Dupuis said he could tell a few facets of his game still need to improve, starting Saturday at Air Canada Centre against the Maple Leafs. He mentioned his penalty killing could be taken to a higher level and also that he thinks his agility isn't quite where it could be. However, for one game he is satisfied.

"Maybe a little more [speed] can come," Dupuis said. "[More] explosiveness, but I worked hard on it. It was a long [absence], but it definitely paid off."

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