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Penguins won't have Ehrhoff, Pouliot for opener

by Wes Crosby

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Penguins defensemen Christian Ehrhoff and Derrick Pouliot will not be available against the New York Rangers in the series opener Thursday.

Ehrhoff and Pouliot, who each practiced Wednesday, are recovering from upper-body injuries that will force them to miss Game 1 of Pittsburgh's Eastern Conference First Round series against New York at Madison Square Garden (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports, ROOT, MSG). Ehrhoff has practiced with full contact the past two days and seems closer to returning than Pouliot.

"It was nice to get out on the ice again with the guys the last few days," Ehrhoff said. "Unfortunately, I'm not ready to go for Game 1, but it's a day-to-day thing and hopefully it keeps progressing in the right direction. … It's been tough sitting on the sidelines watching the guys battling it out the past few weeks, but I'm glad we're here now.

"Like I said, hopefully I keep progressing in the right direction and help the team soon."

Ehrhoff last played against the St. Louis Blues on March 24, when he played 1:13 on two shifts before leaving with an injury. He returned against St. Louis after missing one game with a lingering concussion that previously caused him to miss 12 games from Jan. 30-Feb. 22 before returning against the Washington Capitals on Feb. 25 and missing an additional six games.

In his first season with the Penguins, Ehrhoff scored 14 points, the second lowest total of his 11-year NHL career, and three goals in 49 games.

Pouliot practiced for the first time since sustaining his upper-body injury in the second period of Pittsburgh's 4-3 overtime loss against the Ottawa Senators on April 7. Penguins coach Mike Johnston said Pouliot will most likely need one or two more practices until he is considered ready to play.

"We'll see how Derrick reacts to today's practice and how he felt out there, as far as him moving forward," Johnston said. "We're going with the same group we ended the season with. Derrick was out and Christian was out at the time, and Kris Letang, so it's the same group we played the last few games with. And those were all, obviously, big-time games.

"No bigger than what we're heading into right now, but they've been working together. We might need to insert one new defenseman, but other than that, the guys have played together."

The Penguins used defensive pairings of Paul Martin alongside Ben Lovejoy and Rob Scuderi next to Ian Cole, with Taylor Chorney, Brian Dumoulin, Scott Harrington, Ehrhoff and Pouliot rotating.

Pittsburgh's injury-plagued defense will have a tough task attempting to stifle New York's speed.

"For the most part, every single line comes at you," Scuderi said. "They can all skate, they all play the game north. Everything is flipped up, it's chipped up and they use their speed to the best of their ability. … They're just able to stretch the zone. When they come into the D-zone, they have a couple guys that are taking off and, as a defenseman, you have to respect that and back off.

"It opens up that space between the forwards and the 'D.' They're able to make the plays in the middle and hopefully we can limit that."

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