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Penguins' injured players focused on next season

by Wes Crosby / NHL.com

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Penguins forward Pascal Dupuis had a very slight hope of playing in the Stanley Cup Final.

The New York Rangers eliminated the Penguins in five games during the Eastern Conference First Round, which thwarted that hope. But the 36-year-old, who was placed on injured reserve Nov. 19 with a potentially career-ending blood clot in his lung, said he hopes to resume his career next season.

"If you ask me I thought I was going to play again this year," Dupuis said Sunday during the Penguins' final media availability of the season. "Obviously I'm going to say I'm going to play next year, yes. But it's not up to me right now. I have more tests to be done and hopefully the results come back positive."

Dupuis wasn't the only key player to miss time for injuries during the regular season or the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Defenseman Olli Maatta missed 62 games regular-season games and all five playoff games because of an upper-body injury and surgery to remove a cancerous tumor on his thyroid gland. Kris Letang rebounded from a frustrating 2013-14 season, which included a stroke sustained in late January 2014, with possibly the best performance of his career before sustaining a season-ending concussion against the Arizona Coyotes on March 28. Defenseman Christian Ehrhoff was hindered by a concussion that had him in and out of the lineup on three separate occasions throughout the final three months of his first season in Pittsburgh.

Coach Mike Johnston said there were other Penguins who played through minor injuries but said none of that is why his team was eliminated.

"Everybody's playing with little things," Johnston said. "They're banged up to a degree down the stretch. But there was nothing significant in our lineup that you could say, 'Well, we didn't do this because this player was injured.' There's no excuses."

Dupuis said he skated 12 days throughout the past two weeks.

"I felt great," he said. "I still felt, maybe, in the back of my head I had a chance to come back in the Stanley Cup Final."

For Dupuis to return to game action he will have to be taken off blood thinners, which could occur in a few weeks. He said the blood thinner must wear off, which takes four to seven days, before he can undergo further testing to see if he has a blood disorder.

If he is cleared to play, Dupuis said he would expect full support from his family and friends.

"I think everybody in any kind of field, you worry about your life," Dupuis said. "In hockey we make the call of putting our bodies on the line. Obviously not our lives, but the body's there blocking shots, taking hits and doing it night in and night out. But I definitively think, yes, I can come back and play again."

Dupuis, a mainstay among Pittsburgh's top-six forward group, had six goals and 11 points in 16 games this season after his 2013-14 season was ended just before Christmas when he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee.

"I thought my game was getting better and this whole blood clot came along, and it was definitely frustrating," Dupuis said. "But it's been five months. It's behind me right now. Obviously we have some more testing to do. I'm still on blood thinners right now but I'm looking ahead right now."

Maatta said he is a couple weeks away from skating and said he will be prepared for the start of next season.

"I never had a season like this," Maatta said. "I hope I never will [again]. It's been tough. You always want to be out there. You want to be playing. You don't want to be watching. I hope I have nothing else but good luck left in me."

Letang said he would not have been able to return no matter how far the Penguins went in the playoffs. He said he expects to be ready for training camp in September.

"I'm better," Letang said. "I'm making strides. I skated a few times early in the morning and I'm feeling better. … No concern [on his long-term future]. Like I said, I'm on my way to a comeback so just going through the protocol and then I'll be back on the ice."

Ehrhoff seemed to have a chance to return in the series against the Rangers but had a setback after returning to full practice more than a week ago. After signing a one-year, $4-million contract with the Penguins last summer, Ehrhoff said he would like to return but said no talks have occurred.

"Still trying to get back from a concussion," Ehrhoff said. "The multiple concussions I had during the season. And I was getting better. And then I started skating last week with the team again and had some setback so I had to shut it down again. I don't really know where I am. Obviously now I have some more time to really get it done."

Rookie defenseman Derrick Pouliot, who last played April 7 because of an upper-body injury, could have played Game 6 had the Penguins extended the series, according to Johnston.

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