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Penguins returning to health at right time as playoff lineup begins to form

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Many happy returns today at practice for the Pittsburgh Penguins

NHL: MAR 18 Penguins at Devils Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

After a couple days of mostly off-ice activity and rest, the Penguins returned to practice in full force on Tuesday in preparations for their first round playoff series against the New York Islanders.

It was a very positive looking day with Brandon Tanev, Mike Matheson and Tristan Jarry all returning to the ice in normal looking spots. Evan Rodrigues was also out there and not in the top lines for rushes.

This is quite the sight to see, the Pens haven’t been able to ice a fully healthy lineup in....ever? Certainly not with the Jeff Carter addition to give excellent strength down the middle of the ice.

The biggest surprise, possibly of the latter season storylines is the emergence of Frederick Gaudreau. The injuries opened a door of opportunity and Gaudreau took full advantage. He has nine points (2G+7A) in his last 15 games and six (1G+5A) in the last seven after finding a home and fitting in well with Jared McCann and Jeff Carter. Gaudreau was well off the radar for most of this season at the NHL level, but he’s appearing to claw his way into the opening night playoff lineup.

Matheson was skating wearing a full face cage after sustaining a facial injury from a puck. It remains to be seen how long that he will have to have that on, but the old Boston College Eagle might have to adapt to playing with the full protection for actual games if he has suffered some sort of fracture.

While backup Casey DeSmith remained off the ice again, it was a positive sign to see Jarry back out there too after missing the game on Saturday with a minor injury and not getting on the ice for yesterday’s fairly open and optional practice.

Tuesday’s practice was much longer than the normal in-season type of skate and featured some scrimmage time to keep the players in a battle mentality.

Morale looks high!

The NHL has announced Boston/Washington will start on Saturday but has not released when Penguins/Islanders will begin. If I were a betting man, given league/broadcast tendencies, I would think there will be a game on Sunday and Pens/NYI will run counter days to the other series in the East. Don’t write that in stone yet, though.

Pittsburgh is in a good spot though, regardless of when the playoffs begin. They will be healthy and rested and should be ready to compete once again.