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Round 2

Chris Kunitz returns to Penguins practice

Forward, out since March 31, joins teammates on ice Sunday with Pittsburgh waiting for second-round opponent

by Wes Crosby / Correspondent

CRANBERRY, Pa. -- Pittsburgh Penguins forward Chris Kunitz practiced Sunday for the first time since sustaining a lower-body injury March 31.

Kunitz and defenseman Chad Ruhwedel, who has been out with an upper-body injury since April 6, each wore a yellow no-contact jersey at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex. Kunitz skated on center Evgeni Malkin's left wing with Bryan Rust to their right during line rushes.

"I'm probably stating the obvious that when Chad and [Kunitz] are joining us in practice, they're that much closer," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "That's really encouraging from our standpoint. … We'll see how they respond and we'll make our decisions accordingly on a daily basis."

The practice was Pittsburgh's first since defeating the Columbus Blue Jackets in five games in the best-of-7 Eastern Conference First Round, which ended with a 5-2 win at PPG Paints Center on Thursday.

Video: CGY@PIT: Crosby assists as Kunitz finds twine in 3rd

The Penguins will face the Washington Capitals or Toronto Maple Leafs in the Eastern Conference Second Round. The Capitals lead that best-of-7 series 3-2 with Game 6 at Air Canada Centre on Sunday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports, CSN-DC).

Goaltender Matt Murray and forward Carl Hagelin, each recovering from a lower-body injury, did not practice Sunday. Murray has not skated since sustaining his injury during warmups before Game 1 of the first round, Sullivan said Saturday.

Forward Phil Kessel also did not skate. Sullivan said Kessel had a maintenance day.

Kessel's absence allowed Kunitz to join the second line, where Kessel has played right wing with Malkin and Rust.

Before his injury, Kunitz was left wing on Pittsburgh's third line with center Nick Bonino and right wing Patric Hornqvist, who replaced forward Conor Sheary as first-line right wing late in Game 5 on Thursday and again at practice Sunday. After having two assists in the first round, Sheary moved to third-line right wing.

Kunitz and Ruhwedel had been skating on their own before recent practices and morning skates.

After practice Sunday, Kunitz said he wasn't sure when he would be able to return.

"Today is the first day I've been able to be on the ice with my teammates," Kunitz said. "So, it's one of those things where you go out, you evaluate the next day. Talk to the docs and trainers and let them know how you're feeling. Depending on how many days we have here between games, we'll take it one day at time, I guess."

Video: NSH@PIT: Kunitz buries a loose puck from the slot

Kunitz's 29 points (nine goals, 20 assists) in 71 games this season were his lowest since he had six points (zero goals, six assists) in 21 games as a rookie with the Anaheim Ducks in 2003-04. Since scoring three goals in five games from Feb. 7-16, Kunitz had three assists in the following 21 games.

Kunitz said he didn't notice any setbacks Sunday.

"I felt all right. There were no issues," he said. "You see how you evaluate yourself after the day. … Rebound for tomorrow. See if anything comes up in between then, but just take it one day at a time."

Ruhwedel had 10 points (two goals, eight assists) in 34 games during his first season with the Penguins. He had two assists in 33 games during his previous four NHL seasons, each with the Buffalo Sabres.

When he is ready to return, Ruhwedel likely will join defensemen Mark Streit and Cameron Gaunce among Pittsburgh's healthy scratches.

While healthy, Ruhwedel was paired with Streit. That was before defensemen Trevor Daley and Olli Maatta returned in early April from a knee and hand injury, respectively.

Ruhwedel skated with Streit on a fourth defense pair Sunday.

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