After failing to clinch a playoff spot on Tuesday night against the Detroit Red Wings, the Pittsburgh Penguins will get another chance at it on Thursday when they return home.
They might be getting a little additional help for that game as well.
Superstar center Evgeni Malkin, who has been sidelined since March 16 with an upper-body injury he sustained when he was cross-checked by St. Louis Blues defender Robert Bortuzzo, was a full participant in practice on Wednesday and is officially a game-time decision for Thursday’s game.
Malkin said on Wednesday that his plan all along was to try and play in the final two games of the regular season.
“We’ll see tomorrow,” said Malkin when assessing his availability. “If I feel fine, I’ll have a chance to play. I’ll be ready.”
It will be a welcome sight for the Penguins whenever he returns. While they have managed to keep collecting points in the standings (they are 4-2-2 without him) the offense has dried up considerably, scoring just 18 goals in the past eight games. They managed just one on Tuesday night in Detroit. The top line, led by Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel, has gone cold, and without Malkin to center the second line a lot of the pressure has fallen on the bottom-six to get some timely goals. And while they have been able to do that in recent games the Penguins still need their two big lines to be rolling if they are going to have a chance. Getting Malkin back will certainly help that.
Malkin has 71 points in 66 games this season for the Penguins.
The Penguins need just one more win to clinch a playoff spot.
After playing Detroit on Thursday, their regular season finale is against the New York Rangers on Saturday.
Making things even more complicated for the Penguins in recent weeks is that Malkin is not the only key injury they are dealing with.
Kris Letang, the team’s top defensemen, has also been sidelined and remains out of the lineup after briefly returning for three games in mid-March. He confirmed on Wednesday that the injury he is dealing with is related to the one that sidelined him in February and that he did not feel right when he initially returned. At this point he is still listed as “day-to-day.”
Brian Dumoulin, Letang’s regular partner on the top defense pairing, is also currently sidelined. He, too, is listed as being “day-to-day.”
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.