The Penguins could be getting back one of their injured players for the series with the Capitals. Chris Kunitz has been cleared for contact. He was on the ice at practice on Monday, and hopes to be in the lineup for Game 1 Thursday night, “I plan on it, unless there’s something going on, something changes, but you still wanna get in there and try to ramp yourself up and get to the level that these guys are at. They’ve already played a whole two weeks without me so I have to be able to put myself in a good position but not hurt the team.”

Statement from GM Kevin Colbert:

“Martavis Bryant has followed the protocol and has been conditionally reinstated by the National Football League. We appreciate that he has taken the necessary steps in an effort to get his personal life in order. We also understand this is just the beginning as he works to return to the team and meet all of the conditions of his reinstatement. We look forward to working with Martavis to ensure that he is mentally and physically prepared to contribute to our efforts on the field, while also maintaining the proper balance to keep his life in order off the field.”

How can you not feel great for Marc-Andre Fleury?! He’s a professional in every way.  Fleury is now #1 all-time in the playoffs for Penguins goaltenders. He earned this. He deserves this. He was also moved by the rousing ovation from the crowd at PPG Arena, “to be here at home in front of our fans to be able to get that win with the support they gave me throughout the season and all these year. I still get butterflies and goosebumps when you hear the crowd chanting. I’m happy I was able to contribute and get that win here tonight.”

The Penguins will be back at home on Thursday night for a game they didn’t want to play. After failing to close out the Columbus Blue Jackets last night, they’ll play Game 5 in front of their home crowd with another chance to end the series. Sidney Crosby and his teammates are looking forward to feeding off the energy at PPG Paints Arena, “when you have an opportunity to close it out you want to do it. We know it’s the most difficult game. You could see last night the desperation in their game, the importance to that for being ours as well, so yeah it’s an important game tomorrow.”

Last night’s win gives the Penguins a 1-games-to-none lead in their first-round best-of-seven with the Blue Jackets.  But almost everyone expects a rough and physical series. The Penguins were 2-1-1 against Columbus this season, and the team a few hours away on I-70 is fast becoming a rival. For the Pens and Sidney Crosby, it dates back to the when the Pens beat Columbus in the playoffs in 2014, “I think a lot of rivalries begin like that–playoff matchups. The fact that we see each other a lot, that kind of develops, obviously being close in proximity, I think too, so fans travel both ways, it’s developed into that.”

As the defending Stanley Cup champions, Sidney Crosby and his teammates are riding momentum into the playoffs, but Crosby knows that last season, and the good things that have happened this season, don’t necessarily matter now, “we have a lot of guys coming back, you know, I think that helps as far as that trust and belief. Ya everybody starts from scratch here, you know you have to find ways to get it done again.”

The Stanley Cup playoffs return to Pittsburgh tomorrow, and on this day before the start of postseason, the Pens got a big shot in the arm. Evgeni Malkin is back and ready to get back in the lineup. Malkin injured his shoulder when he tried to block a shot in Calgary on March 13th. He’s missed 13 games with this injury, so it was a big deal when he took his regular spot at practice today. Now it’s a question of how long it’ll take Malkin to get back up to game speed, “it’s hard to say right now…three weeks is long time…I try to do my best…but it’s what we do…just play.”

As the Penguins prepare for their final three regular season games (all on the road), there’s some encouraging news on the injury front. Evgeni Malkin was on the ice for today’s morning skate in New Jersey. Malkin injured his shoulder while blocking a shot in the game at Calgary on March 13th. He played in the game after that at Philadelphia, but has missed the 10 games since. Geno won’t play tonight, but he’s close, “I think very close. I mean day-by-day, skate first, practice with team, skate tomorrow. Like everyday I need to skate, be ready playoffs, I hope. We still have like games two left. I hope I play but I’m close.”

Has Sidney Crosby played his final game at the Olympics? According to a statement released by the NHL yesterday, the NHL will not be stopping its schedule for its players to compete in the 2018 South Korea games, “It’s disappointing. I think when you hear about the negotiations and things like that, I really thought something was going to be able to get worked out. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.”

It’s realistic to think that Conor Sheary could play tonight. Sheary suffered a lower-body injury early in Sunday’s loss to the Flyers, but he practiced yesterday, “yeah as of right now, today was kind of a test day. I felt pretty good out there…more of a precautionary thing, that things didn’t get worse last game. But I feel good today…I feel like injuries have been piling up for our team…
and for me individually, kind of avoided a scare there, so it’s good.”