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Penguins get Malkin back vs. Sabres

by Chris Adamski /

PITTSBURGH -- Evgeni Malkin will return to game action Tuesday night. When the Pittsburgh Penguins will get their other former NHL scoring champion and MVP back in the lineup remains quite hazy.

Malkin, defenseman Kris Letang and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury are playing against the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday after all three missed Monday's road win against the Ottawa Senators. The Penguins said Letang had food poisoning, and Fleury stayed in Pittsburgh because his wife was on the verge of delivering the couple's first child.


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Malkin is playing after missing the past four games because of an upper-body injury believed to be to the shoulder that caused him to miss nine games in March.

"We have taken a lot of time with the injury that's he's had, the bumps and bruises that he's had to try to improve to [full] health," Bylsma said about two hours before faceoff against the Sabres. "And now he's looking at the last three games of the season to return to play and get ready to play in the playoffs.

"He's returning now, feeling good about his injury and where he's at."

Malkin, the reigning NHL MVP and the 2008-09 and 2011-12 scoring champion, has 29 points in 28 games this season. He has missed a stretch of at least four games because of injury three times this season. A concussion had him out for four games Feb. 24-March 2.

Penguins captain Sidney Crosby hasn't played since sustaining a broken jaw and losing some teeth during his first shift of the game March 30. Crosby joined injured Penguins Paul Martin (broken hand) and James Neal (concussion) skating on Consol Energy Center ice early Tuesday morning.

Martin joined Malkin, Letang, Fleury and a handful of other teammates for the formal but optional team skate later in the morning. Martin has been cleared for return to practice, and Bylsma said the defenseman "potentially could return to play" in one of the Penguins' two remaining regular-season games after Tuesday.

Martin, who averages 25:22 of ice time, hasn't played since March 28. Neal, who had 40 goals last season, hasn't played since absorbing a blind elbow late in an April 5 victory against the New York Rangers. Bylsma said Neal is continuing to progress through concussion-recovery protocol, and "will most likely return to practice with the team in a short time period."

Crosby's status is murkier. The 2006-07 NHL MVP and scoring champion regularly has taken to the ice while wearing a full face shield in recent weeks, usually with Martin and/or Neal along with Penguins strength and conditioning coach Mike Kadar.

"We don't have a timeline or time frame on him yet," Bylsma said of Crosby.

Crosby will miss his 10th game Tuesday night. Still, barring a five-point effort by the Washington Capitals' Alex Ovechkin against the Winnipeg Jets, Crosby will continue to lead the NHL scoring race as the regular season hits its final four full days. Crosby has 56 points, one more than the Tampa Bay Lightning's Martin St. Louis and two more than the Lightning's Steven Stamkos.

The Penguins, who have won seven in a row and 22 of 24, have clinched the Eastern Conference's No. 1 seed and are three points behind the Chicago Blackhawks in the race for the Presidents' Trophy as the NHL's regular-season champion. Each team has three games remaining.

"It certainly means something," Bylsma said of finishing first in the overall standings. "It's tough to try to look for motivation in terms of getting points and trying to catch the Presidents' Trophy because it doesn't translate into seedings or playoff type of success, but it's certainly something we've talked about and we know exactly where we stand behind Chicago in that race and we know the only way -- really, when you look at the numbers to do it -- is to win the remaining games to put enough pressure on them. And that includes tonight; we know we play today and we can get one point behind them before they play again."

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