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Pens Getting Healthy at Perfect Time

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins
When Sidney Crosby announced on Tuesday that he would play Thursday in New York against the Rangers, a reporter asked him what it would be like having a Penguins team back at full health.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” he laughed.

You really can’t blame Crosby for not wanting to discuss such a prospect, as it’s something that’s eluded the organization for the past two seasons.

But heading into Thursday’s game against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden, that’s exactly what the Penguins will finally have – at least in terms of skaters, as backup netminder Brent Johnson is still sidelined with an undisclosed injury.

The captain’s return means that the Penguins, who have suffered 322 man-games lost this year after battling through 350 man-games lost last season, will have their top three centers – Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Jordan Staal – together in the same lineup for just the 11th time in the last two years.

And Crosby won’t be the only big name returning to game action Thursday on Broadway. All-Star defenseman Kris Letang, who has missed five straight games after suffering symptoms from a hit in Dallas on Feb. 29, will also be back in uniform for Pittsburgh.

“I was scared a little bit during that game,” Letang said. “But looking back at it, the symptoms were not that bad and I rehabilitated easier.”

Letang missed 21 games earlier this season with a concussion suffered on Nov. 26 vs. Montreal, and the team’s leader in minutes played stepped right back into his usual role upon his return – skating 24:17 minutes in a 4-1 win over the Rangers on Jan. 19.

While head coach Dan Bylsma said he doesn’t expect to put Letang in a position where he’ll have to shoulder his usual workload right away, the 24-year-old defenseman has tried to put himself in a position to do just that.

“Hopefully I worked hard enough to get back in the same shape I was before,” he said. “Obviously, we want to keep it simple in the first game back. Make sure I make simple plays and get back into it.”

Bylsma said he plans on pairing Letang with Paul Martin, who will also be back in the lineup after missing the last two games due to illness.

The Penguins have won a season-high nine straight games without a healthy team – so imagine what can happen when talents like Crosby, Letang and Martin are all back.

Martin, who signed with the Penguins in July 2010, is unsure if he’s ever gotten a chance to see his team at full strength since he joined the organization – and he’s elated to finally get an opportunity, especially with the playoffs on the horizon.

“As a player you definitely get excited when you see guys start to come back, your captain (Sidney Crosby), Kris (Letang) and some other guys,” Martin said. “You definitely get a good feeling. We know how good we are and how good we can be with guys out of the lineup. I think we get excited when we have everyone healthy at the same time. That’s the nature of the game and it’s bound to happen. Just the depth that we have will definitely help us down the stretch.”
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