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Bylsma has no plans to rush back injured stars before playoffs

| Wednesday, April 17, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Penguins center Evgeni Malkin watches as forwards James Neal and Sidney Crosby return to the ice before practice on Monday, April 15, 2013, at Consol Energy Center.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Penguins center Evgeni Malkin watches as forwards James Neal and Sidney Crosby return to the ice before practice on Monday, April 15, 2013, at Consol Energy Center.

Dan Bylsma has seen enough of Sidney Crosby.

Actually, he also has seen enough of Crosby's fellow center Evgeni Malkin, defenseman Paul Martin and right winger James Neal.

Bylsma said he has full confidence in those players — each injured and out of the lineup against Montreal on Wednesday night — even if they do not play for the Penguins before the Stanley Cup playoffs.

“There's benefit in playing hockey games ... when you haven't played for a stretch of games,” Bylsma said. “But we're talking about players who are good hockey players and can get in games and be factors in games, (and) I think they're going to do that in their first game whenever it is; be that Game 47 (of the regular season) or Game 1 (of the playoffs).”

Martin (broken thumb) and Crosby (broken jaw) have not played since the final days of March. Neal (concussion) has been out since early April. Malkin (right shoulder) has missed the last two games, but the re-aggravation of this particular injury has weakened his shot and left him frustrated.

Only Malkin is practicing, though the other three injured Penguins are taking part in individual workouts with strength coach Mike Kadar.

The Penguins will not open their first-round playoff series before May 1 because of a concert at Consol Energy Center on April 30.

There is a possibility that none of the injured players would get into one of the Penguins' five remaining regular-season games — though all have said privately they would like to play at least once before the playoffs.

A sore hand caused Neal to miss the final two games before the playoffs last season, and he did not score a goal until Game 3 of a first-round loss to the Flyers.

The most notable example of playing sparingly down the stretch and not missing a beat in the playoffs was set by Crosby, who appeared in just seven games after Jan. 18, 2008, because of a high right-ankle sprain. He finished the 2008 playoffs tied for the overall lead with 27 points in 20 games.

Neal, Crosby, Martin and Malkin are among the Penguins' most skilled players, and each is accustomed to playing heavy minutes.

Defenseman Kris Letang is similar, and he was sharp — an assist and three shots in 23 minutes and 31 seconds — in his first game after a recent seven-game absence.

Letang (groin, broken toe) had missed 10 of 11 games before returning last Thursday at Tampa Bay.

“Just look at Kris Letang,” Bylsma said. “He gets right back in there and is a factor for our team immediately. I think that's what you'd see from those players getting back in.”

Still, Bylsma provided a strong hint as to where things stand with Crosby, Malkin, Neal and Martin.

“There's going to be no thought of rushing those players back to get an opportunity to play that game before the playoffs,” he said.

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