Jordan Staal spent the day in street clothes. So did Chris Kunitz. James Neal and Paul Martin, too. Marc-Andre Fleury got the afternoon off, as well. Didn't matter. With nothing except a few statistics and personal achievements at stake in the Penguins' regular-season finale -- a 5-2 victory against Atlanta Sunday at Philips Arena -- coach Dan Bylsma took advantage of the opportunity to rest many of his core players. All, except Neal, likely would have played if the Penguins still had a chance to overtake Philadelphia for first place in the Atlantic Division, but that point was rendered moot Saturday night. Far more important is that all of them, including Neal, should be available when the Penguins open their first-round playoff series against Tampa Bay at 7:08 p.m. Wednesday at Consol Energy Center. Neal got an unspecified injury, believed to involve his hand or wrist, in the Penguins' 4-3 shootout victory on Long Island this past Friday. He went to the locker room early in the second period and hasn't been back on the ice since. But when Bylsma was asked Sunday if he expects Neal will be there for Game 1 of the Lightning series, he responded simply, "I do." The Penguins know, of course, that they won't have center Evgeni Malkin, who is out until next season after undergoing knee surgery, or left winger Matt Cooke, who is suspended for the first round. It remains to be seen whether center Sidney Crosby, who hasn't played since Jan. 5 because of a concussion, will be able to return at any point in the Lightning series. And, if so, when. Bylsma said there is no change in Crosby's status, which means he still hasn't been cleared for contact. Crosby, who was having an MVP-caliber season before being injured, missed the final 41 games of the regular season. Despite that -- and significant injuries to other key players, such as Staal, Malkin, Kunitz and Brooks Orpik -- the Penguins finished the regular season with a 49-25-8 record.
Core players rest up for playoffs
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette | Apr 11