Niskanen returns to Penguins' lineup
• The Penguins' hurting defense got a lift Friday night when Matt Niskanen rejoined the lineup at Buffalo, returning sooner than expected from a lower-body injury suffered March 22 against Nashville. Niskanen's ice time might be limited at first, but not by much, coach Dan Bylsma said. "I don't think it's a real concern," Bylsma said. "(He) probably will not be totally right back to his normal workload, but we'll lean on him quite a bit." The Penguins were 1-3 without Niskanen, who was paired with Paul Martin last night.
• The Penguins remain without defensemen Kris Letang (lower-body injury) and Ben Lovejoy (knee surgery), which added to the importance of Niskanen's return. He was expected to stay home during this two-game road trip until his practice Wednesday in Pittsburgh went "significantly better" than expected, Bylsma said. Niskanen showed more progress Thursday on Long Island. "He tolerated a lot of physical activity," Bylsma said, "a lot of confrontations on the ice."
• Letang, out since Sunday against New Jersey, did not travel on this trip. Lovejoy, also injured Sunday, will miss three to four weeks. Called up from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Monday, rookie Brian Strait played yesterday, and Simon Despres was a healthy scratch.
• Center Joe Vitale, out since March 17 with a shoulder injury, returned to the lineup. Forwards Eric Tangradi and Richard Park were scratched.
• The Sabres, in position for one of the Eastern Conference's final playoff spots, would be a tough first-round opponent, Bylsma said. "Every year you see one or two teams that are fighting for playoff spots playing really well, get in and be dangerous teams," Bylsma said. "Buffalo is right in the group that has been playing as well as anybody in the league."
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