Penguins star Malkin expected back for playoff push

The Pittsburgh Penguins appear set to get center Evgeni Malkin back on Thursday as they continue a late push to make the playoffs and maintain their bid to regain the Stanley Cup.

Out since March 16 with an upper body injury, Malkin said that everything felt good during a practice in which he pushed the pace and even did some physical work in the corners.

"I feel like every day is better," Malkin said. "I want to get back and start playing. We'll see. If I feel fine, I have a good chance to play."

Barring any setbacks, Malkin will likely face the Detroit Red Wings at home, providing a much-needed boost to Pittsburgh's offense.

Since January 2, Malkin has scored points in 22 of 27 games, racking up nine goals and 31 points.

However, he has missed eight games since St. Louis Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo cross-checked him in the ribs in mid-March and could only watch as Pittsburgh, with a chance to clinch a playoff spot, lost 4-1 to Detroit on Tuesday.

The Penguins, though 4-2-2 in his absence, have scored two or fewer goals in six of their past nine games, with zero power-play goals in seven of those outings.

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Malkin skated on a line with Bryan Rust and Phil Kessel as part of a restructured top six during Wednesday's practice and also reclaimed his spot on the top power play.

"You always get a boost when guys get back in the lineup," captain Sidney Crosby said. "Especially this time of year, games are so important. It would be huge."

The Penguins, winners of the Stanley Cup in 2016 and 2017, are in third place in the Metropolitan Division, two points adrift of the New York Islanders.

Pittsburgh cannot win the division but could earn home-ice in the playoffs' opening round with wins over the Red Wings and the New York Rangers in Saturday's season finale coupled with a loss by the Islanders, who play the Florida Panthers on Thursday and finish with the Washington Capitals.

In other Penguins injury news, defenseman Kris Letang (upper body) rejoined the team on Wednesday for practice but was wearing a non-contact jersey. He has missed the past four games.

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