Penguins' Malkin expects to play in Game 1

| Tuesday, April 15, 2014, 3:57 p.m.

Evgeni Malkin expects to play for the Penguins on Wednesday night.

His regular winger, James Neal, expects something like this from Malkin:

“Put the puck in early,” Neal said. “Chip it. Don't even try to deke a defenseman.

“If you see No. 71 put the puck behind the defense early, that's going to open things up for him to use his speed later on — and then, just look out.”

The Penguins open the Stanley Cup playoffs with Game 1 of a best-of-seven series against Columbus at Consol Energy Center.

They will do it at full health after losing an NHL-high 532 man-games to injury during the regular season.

Malkin missed the final 11 games because of a hairline fracture to a bone in his right foot. He participated in a full practice Tuesday and centered a second line with Neal and Jussi Jokinen.

Malkin said he felt “no pain” immediately after the session. He needed to meet with Penguins physicians to gain clearance to play in Game 1.

Malkin appeared at ease on and off the ice. His skating stride was fluid, and he handled turns and stops without signs of discomfort. He even took a friendly jab at Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, a fellow Russian.

“He stays in the net,” Malkin said, smiling.

“All Russian goalies do.”

Malkin said he likes how the Penguins match up with Columbus. He cited the clubs' similar systems and structure, hinting that the Penguins' familiarity could lead to a sense of calmness he feels they lacked in two previous opening-round series against Philadelphia and the New York Islanders.

Malkin said the disappointment of Russia's failure to medal in men's hockey at Sochi Olympics is “gone” and that he feels “excited to try (to) win (the) Stanley Cup again.”

The Penguins are best built to do that if Malkin and fellow franchise center Sidney Crosby dominate the postseason as they did during the 2009 Cup run. Then, Malkin and Crosby became the only NHL players to record more than 30 points in a postseason since Colorado's Joe Sakic in 1996.

Crosby usually faces a club's best defensemen and defensive forwards, and Malkin said it is up to his line to force a change in opposition strategy.

“It's always good (defense) against Sid. He has to work hard for chances,” Malkin said. “We need to control with the puck (and) make (the) other team play (their) best defensive guys against our line.”

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