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Penguins' Martin returns to practice, faces possible weekend return

Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Penguins defenseman Paul Martin skates during practice with the team on Friday, April 26, 2013, at Southpointe.

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Saying he “felt good — better than I thought,” Paul Martin returned to a full practice with the Penguins for the first time in more than seven weeks.

An X-ray taken Sunday on the defenseman's broken right hand revealed enough progress in healing that Martin was cleared to practice for the first time since the Olympic break.

“It was just good in general to be out with the guys,” said Martin, who's missed the past 17 games. “It's been a long couple weeks, so it's nice to see light at end of the tunnel and get back to practice and hopefully play soon.”

Martin is targeting a return to game action during the Penguins' road trip this weekend. Coach Dan Bylsma said “there's no definite date” for Martin's return “as of yet.”

Martin's right hand was broken playing for Team USA in a quarterfinal game against Slovakia in the Sochi Olympics on Feb. 19. Wednesday would mark six weeks since the injury. Martin, who had surgery on the hand the following week, was expected to be out four to six weeks.

Martin won't play when the Penguins host Carolina on Tuesday, and he termed returning Thursday at Winnipeg as “a longshot.” He is targeting weekend games at Minnesota (Saturday) or Colorado (Sunday).

“I would like to play (Tuesday), but I don't think that's going to happen,” said Martin, a Minneapolis native. “Realistically, I think Winnipeg would be nice, but maybe a longshot with only a couple practices. But I'd definitely like to play back home this weekend Saturday, so…”

Martin said he would “try not to get too excited” after all went smoothly during a practice that included some contact. He wants to wait to see how he feels Tuesday morning.

Former defense partner Brooks Orpik gave Martin's return to practice glowing reviews, saying, “It was typical Pauly. He looked like he hadn't missed a beat”

With Kris Letang (recovery from stroke) also at practice, the Penguins had their top nine defenseman on the ice together for practice for the first time since training camp. Throughout the season among Penguins defensemen, only Matt Niskanen and rookie Olli Maatta have not missed any games because of injury.

In other injury news, forward Joe Vitale took part in the practice. He had not played since March 20. On Sunday, Bylsma said Vitale was “week-to-week” with a “mid-body” injury.

“I'm just happy for them; it's been a tough season for a lot of guys with a lot of injuries,” goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. “It'll be good to have the whole team altogether.

“We've found ways to win throughout the season, though, and that's important. But it'd be good to see everyone back and healthy for the playoffs.”

The Penguins have gone 8-7-2 during this stretch without Martin, although Letang has also been out that whole time, and others — such as Evgeni Malkin — have been missing, too.

The postseason begins two weeks from Wednesday. With medical hurdles cleared, Martin needs to get re-acclimated to hockey shape and ensure the strength has returned to his hand before returning to action.

“We've seen (Martin) around the room these last three weeks doing some skating,” Bylsma said. “But now that he's out here practicing and working on his game and with the thought we may see him here in the near future (in a game) is definitely a lift for our team and our players.”

Chris Adamski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at cadamski@tribweb.com or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.

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