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Penguins notebook: Crosby to return to practice Friday

| Thursday, April 25, 2013, 6:09 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Penguins captain Sidney Crosby returned to the ice on Monday, April 15, 2013, wearing a plastic shield covering his lower face to protect him from further damage to his injured jaw. He is expected to participate in a full practice Friday, April 26, 2013, at the Penguins' Southpointe facility.

NEWARK, N.J. — Two of the Penguins' most important players could return to the lineup Saturday in the regular-season finale against Carolina. Their most important player will practice Friday.

Sidney Crosby still hasn't been cleared for contact but will participate in practice at Southpointe.

He hasn't played since breaking his jaw March 30 against the New York Islanders but, after having more dental surgery Thursday, was cleared for practice.

Right wing James Neal (concussion) and defenseman Paul Martin (broken hand bone) participated in Thursday's morning skate at Prudential Center.

Neither played against the Devils, but both are close to being cleared for game action.

Martin, who has been out since March 28, expects to play Saturday.

“I think that's the plan,” Martin said. “I was hoping for (Thursday). But now it looks like probably Saturday. No guarantee. It would depend. But I feel good enough. It would be good to get a game in (before the playoffs).”

Neal also skated with the team and, along with Martin, remained on the ice working with strength and conditioning coach Mike Kadar for an additional 30 minutes. Neal has been out since April 5.

Coach Dan Bylsma would love to get Martin and Neal — to say nothing of all the injured Penguins — game action Saturday as opposed to throwing them in Wednesday, when the postseason begins at Consol Energy Center. But medical rulings come first.

“To get back in and play is better than to wait until Game 1 of the playoffs,” Bylsma said. “Having said that, we can't rush players in. We can't and aren't going to do that.”

Martin, initially ruled out for six weeks, is eager to play.

“I feel great,” he said. “I'd like to say we're ahead of schedule by the way things are going. But it's up to the docs.”

Baby won't keep Fleury out

The birth of his first child, Estelle, will not force goalie Marc-Andre Fleury to miss a Stanley Cup playoff game. If the baby is not born before Saturday, Fleury's wife, Veronique, will have labor induced.

Bumps and bruises

Defenseman Brooks Orpik sustained a lower-body injury Tuesday against Buffalo and did not return. He did not make the trip to New Jersey. Bylsma said Orpik is “day to day.”

Center Joe Vitale did not make the trip and, like Orpik, is listed as day to day with a lower-body injury.

Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jyohe@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.

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