There is good news and bad news surrounding the Penguins’ injury situation heading into Thursday night’s Game 4 against the Canadiens at Bell Centre.
Going with the good news first, Selke Trophy finalist Jordan Staal
, who has been out of the lineup since undergoing a procedure to repair a lacerated tendon
in his foot following Game 1, was called a “game-time decision” for Game 4 by head coach Dan Byslma after Staal took part in the morning skate with his teammates, the second straight day he has fully participated in practice
“We saw him out there and he was comfortable skating around and in some battle situations,” Bylsma said. “We will see tonight.”
Now onto the bad news, it appears that veteran winger Bill Guerin will miss his second consecutive contest with an undisclosed injury despite also taking part in the morning skate on Thursday.
“It was a surprise to get him out on the ice (Thursday),” Bylsma said. “He looked good; he didn’t look a day over 39. It was good to have him back out there. He is day-to-day but not probable for (Game 4).”
Finally, forward Mike Rupp, who did not skate on Thursday morning, is likely to miss Game 4.
“I will not change my policy but he is not dealing with a hockey injury,” Bylsma said. “It is undisclosed but I don’t expect him (Thursday). It is still a possibility.”
While Guerin’s and Rupp’s absences would be huge losses in terms of the physical and forechecking presence each provides, possibly getting Staal back into action could offset missing two veteran leaders.
Staal suiting up less than a week after undergoing surgery might not equal Willis Reed’s dramatic entrance onto the court at Madison Square Garden for Game 7 of the 1970 National Basketball Association Finals, but it’s still impressive nonetheless.
Speaking to reporters in the locker room at Bell Centre on Thursday, Staal gave a thumbs up when asked how he felt after skating with his teammates for the second straight day.
“I felt good,” Staal said. “I felt more confident and stronger out there this morning.”
Despite offering a positive progress report on his foot, neither Staal nor Bylsma was willing to guarantee that Staal would be in the lineup for Game 4.
“I don’t know,” Staal said. “It’s tough to say right now. We’ll see how it goes. Again, I’m feeling really good out there and really comfortable.”
“With his situation, talking to the doctors and talking to Jordan, it is about him being comfortable in the boot,” Byslma said. “There is no danger in regards to the procedure that he had. It is just a matter of getting the boot and being comfortable and able to push off.”
Not surprisingly since it was just last Friday when Staal suffered the injury, he said that there is still swelling and soreness he must deal with both on and off the ice. He credited head athletic trainer Chris Stewart and the entire training staff for helping get him well enough to possibly return.
“Every morning it is a little sore,” Staal said. “All throughout the night it is going to swell up a little bit. The trainers did a good job of loosening it up and making it feel pretty good.”
Staal’s availability for Game 4 will be a group decision that will include, among others, Staal and Byslma.
“It’s obviously up to the coaches,” Staal said. “It’s their decision whether I am in or not. I’m going to give my two cents to them and see how they take it.”
Staal wasn’t willing to come clean with what his two cents will be, but he did offer up a hint:
“I always want to play. Whether or not I do, we will see how it goes.”
Upon Staal’s return, Bylsma suggested that his ice time would be cut back a bit at first from the 19:18 minutes per game he had been averaging prior to the injury as Staal builds his way back to game shape.
“When and if he is able to play, we would probably see a situation where we don’t put him back directly into a situation where he is playing 20 minutes a night. We’ll have to wait and see how that goes.
“I always want to play. Whether or not I do, we will see how it goes.” - Jordan Staal
When news of Staal’s injury hit the hockey world shortly after Game 1 on April 30, many were fearing the worst and expecting the 21-year-old Thunder Bay, Ontario native to miss at least the remainder of the series, if not the entire duration of the postseason.
Bylsma quickly discounted that notion, labeling the center as day-to-day, which caused more than a few snickers at Southpointe that day.
But true to form, Staal, who had appeared in 358 consecutive contests including the postseason prior to sitting out Game 2, made his coach look like a genius when he hit the ice briefly in his warmup suit for five minutes on Tuesday
. Staal then put on all his equipment for the Penguins’ optional practice Wednesday.
Now, days ahead of when he was expected to return, and despite being far from 100 percent, Staal stands a chance of dressing for the Penguins in Thursday night’s crucial Game 4 as Pittsburgh hopes to take a commanding 3-1 lead in the series.
“Nobody really knows when they are 100 percent well enough to get back into the lineup,” Staal said. “It can’t really get worse so we will see how it goes.”