Penguins center Sidney Crosby took another step -- or perhaps it was just a tweak -- in his recovery from surgery when he practiced Sunday without the padded plastic bar that had been attached to his helmet to protect his jaw.
"I mean, it doesn't really change anything," Crosby insisted. "It's nicer to see a little bit better, but a 'step' is probably a big word for just taking a little thing off of my helmet."
Crosby has been medically cleared to play without the extra protection and is expected to do so when the Penguins meet the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference final.
"It feels weird, actually, because you're used to wearing a full face [protector] for a month or whatever it was, but definitely much better," Crosby said. "Air and seeing, everything like that is much better."
Crosby got hurt March 30 when a deflected puck struck him in the jaw, breaking it in the chin area and knocking out several teeth. He had plates and screws surgically implanted the next day.
He added the extra protection when he returned to the ice for practice and kept it on when he returned to the lineup May 3 for Game 2 of the Penguins' first-round playoff series against the New York Islanders.
Crosby isn't the only one who had grown accustomed to the extra protection.
"I kind of like seeing the pictures of him with it, the playoff type of pictures," coach Dan Bylsma said. "But [not wearing] it does show off his [playoff] beard a little more."
The waiting game
The Penguins don't know what their schedule for the Boston series will be. Or when it will start. Or even what days they will practice while they wait.
They have plans to practice again today, but mostly they will wait, maybe take a day or two off as the week unfolds and the NHL waits to see what the matchup will be for the Western Conference final before it releases a schedule.
"Staying sharp and staying focused is part of our plans for practice this week," Bylsma said.
Although they are potentially four wins away from advancing to the Stanley Cup final, the Penguins don't want to use what could be a layoff of several days to get too obsessed with the Bruins.
"We don't want to over-dissect it," defenseman Matt Niskanen said. "It's the same game, really, just a new opponent -- a very good opponent -- but the game doesn't change and our game plan won't change a whole lot.
"Just getting to know their tendencies, getting that fresh in our mind and the adjustments we want to make going into the series."
The Penguins plan to spend more time in the interim worrying about themselves than their next opponent.
"If we had to start [tonight], I think we'd be ready. It would be OK," Crosby said. "But in the playoffs, you're never going to complain about rest and preparation, especially before the series starts. We'll make the most of it."
Kunitz, Neal sit out
Wingers Chris Kunitz and James Neal did not practice Sunday. In keeping with the team's playoff policy, no update was provided.
Beau Bennett filled in for Kunitz on Crosby's line and Tanner Glass filled in for Neal on Evgeni Malkin's line, an indication that the team is holding spots for Kunitz and Neal rather than shuffling their personnel in preparation for playing without them.
Jagr scoreless but still sharp
Bruins winger Jaromir Jagr had no points in Boston's second-round win against the New York Rangers and has no goals this postseason.
"He's had a lot of chances, and he's created a lot of chances," said Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli, who acquired Jagr at the trade deadline after the Penguins snatched Jarome Iginla out from under the Bruins.
Part of the cost to get Jagr just increased to a first-round draft pick. It was conditional based on whether Boston advanced to the conference final.
Jagr was part of the Philadelphia team that bounced the Penguins in the first round last year.
Bylsma was asked whether Jagr -- the long-time Penguins star who helped them win two Stanley Cups in the 1990s, his mullet years -- was washed up at 41.
"He's still a force down low with the puck offensively," Bylsma said. "He's a tough guy to take the puck off of. I don't look at birth certificates. He might be 40 years old, but he still has power-play ability, coming off the flanker, coming off the half-wall.
"So yes, he's still got game. Maybe not the same hair as he did when he was in Pittsburgh, but he's still got game."
Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik has a lot of ties to Boston. He played at Boston College and makes his offseason home there.
"It's going to be fun," he said of the series against the Bruins. "Hopefully, keep the ticket requests to a minimum."
During the NHL lockout that pushed the start of the season into January, Orpik skated with several Bruins. He didn't gain any insight on those players that could give the Penguins an edge.
"None that help me more than other guys," Orpik said. "I think we're all pretty familiar with their guys.
"Maybe I have more respect for some of their guys now that you typically wouldn't have. Guys like [pesky winger Brad] Marchand that everyone hates. Those type of guys are usually pretty good guys off the ice.
"I got to know them a little more as people, but nothing that will help us on the ice, I don't think."mobilehome - penguins
For much more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Shelly Anderson: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly First Published May 27, 2013 4:00 AM