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Malkin practices, could play in Game 2

by Sam Kasan @PensInsideScoop / Pittsburgh Penguins

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Center Evgeni Malkin returned to practice for the first time with his teammates since suffering a lower-body injury in Game 5 against the Philadelphia Flyers in Round One.

Malkin, who has missed the past two games for Pittsburgh, was listed as a "game-time decision" by head coach Mike Sullivan for Sunday's 3 p.m. Game 2 matchup against Washington at Capital One Arena. 

"I thought he looked pretty good," Sullivan said.

Malkin also felt good on the ice, and if he plays in Game 2 it will depend on how the injury reacts to the practice session.

"I feel so much better," Malkin said. "We'll see how I feel overnight. I can't say right now but it feels so much better."

Malkin wore a full-contact jersey and took part in end-to-end line rushes and power-play work with the top unit.

Malkin worked on the fourth line with Carter Rowney and Tom Kuhnhackl during practice. Though when the media asked Sullivan if Malkin would stay with that pairing in a game, the coach responded with a smirk: "Probably not."

Malkin originally suffered the lower-body injury after getting tangled with Flyers' forward Jori Lehtera and crashing into the boards in the first period eight days ago. He returned to that contest and finished the game, but has missed the past two.

"When you feel something wrong you always hope it won't be bad," he said. "You hope it's small. Sometimes you need time to recover. I did my best. I couldn't play (in Game 1), but maybe tomorrow."

Malkin, who hasn't practiced in a week, admitted that his conditioning is a little off after being off.

"I haven't skated in a week," Malkin said. "It's a little hard. I was breathing so hard."

One thing is for sure, if Malkin does get the go for Game 2, he will be operating at full speed. Which means he will handle his normal role and workload.

"If I play, I'm ready to play," Malkin said. "If I play you need to go 100 percent."

"If we choose to put 'Geno' in the lineup tomorrow he's going to play," Sullivan said. "We're going to try to put him in a position to play to his strengths and be successful."

Malkin was named the team's regular-season MVP after pacing the club with 42 goals and 98 points. Pittsburgh managed to win both games without him, but Malkin's addition to the lineup would certainly make them stronger.

"It's nice to see him back on the ice. He's a big part of this team," winger Patric Hornqvist said. "Hopefully he can go, but if not we'll have to play the same as last game."

Malkin admitted that it's difficult to be out of the lineup at this time of the year, but marveled at the Pens' success in his absence.

"They won two games with out me, great team. They played so hard," Malkin said. "If I'm in tomorrow I'll try to do my best and make us stronger."

Note: The only absent player from the Pens' Saturday afternoon practice was winger Carl Hagelin (upper-body) who remained in Pittsburgh.

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