Penguins coach Dan Bylsma announced following Friday's practice that defenseman Paul Martin and winger James Neal will return to the lineup for the regular-season finale on Saturday vs. Carolina. They have both been skating for the last 11 days and recently joined team practice.
Martin has missed the last 12 games with a broken bone in his hand, suffered when blocking a shot on March 28 vs. Winnipeg. He said he will wear extra padding in his glove to provide added protection.
“It feels great right now,” Martin said. “Been doing some things on the ice with the guys that have been out. We’ve been testing it and it feels good. We’ll make sure it’s protected and I don’t think I’ll have any issues. I’m sure it will just be the reaction thing that you’re not used to.”
Neal has missed the last eight games after sustaining a concussion on April 5 against the NY Rangers. He said the timing of his recovery happened to work out so that he could play one game before the playoffs started, and that he’s not hurrying back to play before he’s ready.
“I wasn’t trying to rush it back or get in a game before playoffs,” he explained. “It was just how I felt. I feel like I’m ready to play now. So just get back up to game speed and get ready and ramp it up for playoffs.”
Neal said he maintained his conditioning as well as he could while he was out, and acknowledged that skating on Saturday will help him regain his peak form before the postseason.
“It makes it a little bit easier when you’re this far into games,” he said. “You’re in the best shape possible. Obviously, it takes a little bit to get back to that. (Saturyday’s) game will definitely help me.”
Note: The Penguins held a noon practice at Southpointe Friday. Joe Vitale (lower body) skated prior to the team’s practice with strength and conditioning coach Mike Kadar. Brooks Orpik (lower body) did not practice. Both Vitale and Orpik are listed as day-to-day.
Marc-Andre Fleury also did not practice as he awaits the birth of his first child.
The Penguins used the following line combinations Friday: