A familiar big-toothed grin could be seen on the ice at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry on Monday.
Two-time All-Star goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury returned to full team practice for the Penguins.
Fleury, who has skated the past few days, said he was feeling “good” after missing the team’s last five regular-season games with his second concussion of the season.
Fleury is cautiously hopeful to be between the pipes for Pittsburgh when the puck drops Wednesday night for Game 1 of the team’s First Round series against the New York Rangers.
“Just (taking it one day) at a time,” Fleury said. “This was my first practice. We’ll see how it goes the next few days. Hopefully, everything is good.”
The Pens’ goaltending position appeared to be quite precarious entering the postseason with the possible loss of their No. 1 and 2 starters.
While Fleury was sidelined for the final five games of the season, rookie Matt Murray stepped in admirably. Pittsburgh didn’t miss a beat as they rattled off four-straight wins.
But Murray left the Pens’ final game of the regular season in Philadelphia after a collision with the Flyers’ Brayden Schenn. He did not practice Monday and has been listed by the team as “day-to-day” with an upper-body injury.
Jeff Zatkoff finished that contest in Philadelphia in goal, and the team recalled Tristan Jarry, who has yet to make his NHL debut, from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
With the status of Fleury and Murray unknown for the opening game of the postseason, Zatkoff may carry the torch for the Pens.
“It doesn’t change how I prepare at all,” Zatkoff said. “I approach it the same way everyday, just worry about myself, try to work hard, get ready to play in case my number is called.”
If Fleury, who missed eight games in late December with a concussion, is able to start on Wednesday, it will be his first game action in nearly two weeks.
“It’s always another step to play a game,” Fleury said. “I was hoping to get one before the end of the season. It just didn’t happen. It is what it is. I’ll make the most out of practice, and make sure I’m ready for when I can play again.”
Fleury started all four regular-season contests against the Rangers, posting a 3-1 record, 1.97 goals-against average and .922 save percentage. Lifetime against New York in the postseason, Fleury has a 2.09 goals-against average, .924 save percentage and three shutouts in 17 games.
Fleury’s presence on the ice was certainly a welcomed sight for his teammates.
“It’s great to see him out there,” veteran forward Matt Cullen said. “We’re all really happy for him. He’s a huge part of our group and nobody likes going through what he’s gone though. It’s a tough thing to deal with, so we’re happy for him.”
Fleury was flashing his pearly whites constantly while being back around his old friends.
“I missed being around the guys, being at the games,” Fleury said. “I miss playing. I’m glad it’s going in the right way.”