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Pens Report: 04.24.17

by Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter

Chris Kunitz and Chad Ruhwedel practiced with the team for a second straight day on Monday at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex, this time wearing regular full-contact jerseys after wearing yellow no-contact jerseys on Sunday.

Head coach Mike Sullivan said they will be game-time decisions for Game 1 of the Second Round against Washington, set for Thursday at Verizon Center. And making those lineup decisions, Sullivan added, will be difficult ones.

"They're hard decisions, but they're good decisions to have," Sullivan said. "It's an indication that we have players available to us that allow us to try and put the most competitive team on the ice. These guys have helped this team win games throughout the course of this year. They're part of this whole group and we have so much respect for our whole roster, not just the guys who are playing.

"There'll be certain guys that may come out of the lineup or come in and out of the lineup, but these guys are critical parts in helping this team win. I think that's the essence of a team and I think our players understand that and they value that."

Kunitz skated on a line alongside Matt Cullen, with Tom Kuhnhackl and Carter Rowney rotating on the other wing. He said being able to string a couple of practices together has been hugely beneficial.

"It's still one of those day-by-day things but you still try to get up to speed," said Kunitz, who missed the last five regular-season games and entire First Round against Columbus with a lower-body injury. "Obviously a couple weeks away from playing my last game, so the excitement's still there to get back in the lineup."

Kunitz said it's important for him to try and reach the level that his teammates are at as best he can.

"They already played a whole two weeks and then some without me, so it's something where I have to put myself in a good position but also not hurt my team," Kunitz said. "You want to make sure you're going to be able to go out there and play every single shift that they put you out there, and also if it's one of those extended games, you've got to be able to go out there and pull your weight."

It's likely that both Kunitz and Ruhwedel will be ready to go, and Sullivan said that they are "hopeful" that winger Carl Hagelin will also return at some point in the series. He has been out since March 11 with a lower-body injury.

"He's getting closer," Sullivan said. "He skated today. He skated yesterday on his own. He's making progress. So we're hopeful we're going to get him soon. It's one of those injuries that is going to be a day-to-day thing, so I can't say for sure. But certainly we're hopeful."

Hagelin made a huge impact on the series with Washington last year as part of the HBK Line with Nick Bonino and Phil Kessel, leading the Pens with three goals and seven points in six games. While the Pens know they're a more competitive team with him in the lineup, they also believe they're still a fast team in his absence.

"He obviously increases our speed because of what he brings to our team, but we've got plenty of speed throughout our lineup," Sullivan said. "That's obviously part of the fabric of this team's identity and its competitive advantage and we're trying to play to that."

* Sullivan said that Matt Murray, who suffered a lower-body injury in warmups before Game 1 against Columbus, has yet to resume skating.

* The Pens used the following lines…

Guentzel-Crosby-Hornqvist

Rust-Malkin-Kessel

Wilson-Bonino-Sheary

Kunitz-Cullen-Kuhnhackl/Rowney

The defensemen rotated.

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