Defenseman Sergei Gonchar and center Evgeni Malkin practiced Tuesday with the Penguins at Mellon Arena.
Gonchar seems more likely to play tonight against Tampa Bay.
"[This] morning I'm going to try to skate with the team again, and then we'll make a decision," said Gonchar, who missed the past three games because of strep throat, which he said relegated him to bed for five days.
Gonchar has 41 points in 60 career games against the Lightning, including both winning goals this season as the Penguins have won two of three games against Tampa Bay.
Malkin, who has missed the past four games and six of the past seven because of a sore right foot, did not skate on a regular line, and all concerned seem to be taking a cautious approach.
"I feel a little bit better, but not 100 percent," Malkin said. "We'll see [today], how I skate in the morning skate.
"It's close to the playoffs now. If I want to play, I need to feel 100 percent. The coaches and my doctor say that's important for me."
Although the Penguins have clinched a playoff spot and are chasing an Atlantic Division title and a No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, their mantra this season seems to be "inconsistency."
General manager Ray Shero concedes that, but he also is willing to repeat the praise he has bestowed on the club all season.
"Are their speed bumps? Sure," Shero said. "Is there a little bit of a lack of focus here and there? Absolutely.
"But we've got 95 points and have locked up a playoff berth. We see the light at the end of the tunnel with the playoffs starting shortly. I'm hoping we're going to start playing our best hockey of the year and enter the playoffs on a high note.
"I've said all along that I like our team, I like our character, I like our leadership."
The game tonight will feature two of the three top contenders for the Maurice "Rocket" Richard trophy, which goes to the top goal-scorer in the NHL.
Penguins center Sidney Crosby leads with 47 goals, followed by Washington's Alex Ovechkin (46) and the Lightning's Steven Stamkos (45).
Stamkos, 20, the first overall pick in the 2008 draft, has nearly doubled his goal total (23) from his rookie season with 20 coming on the power play.
Former Penguins winger Ryan Malone could return tonight for Tampa Bay. He missed his 10th game last night since having arthroscopic surgery on his left knee.
This will be the Upper St. Clair native's final trip to Mellon Arena unless the Lightning beats great odds to climb into the playoffs and faces the Penguins.
He grew up around the arena because his father, Lightning head pro scout Greg Malone, was a longtime head scout for the Penguins.
"I asked for seats already," Malone told the St. Pete Times.
He did not mean tickets for tonight.
"That would be pretty cool to have three or four seats from there," he said.
About 1,500 tickets for each of the Penguins' first two home games of the 2010 playoffs go on sale at 10 a.m. April 7. The club is encouraging fans to order online at www.ticketmaster.com.
Tickets also will be available at the Mellon Arena Gate One box office (where a lottery system will be used), Pittsburgh area Ticketmaster locations and by phone through Ticketmaster at 1-800-745-3000.
Shelly Anderson: email@example.com . First Published March 31, 2010 4:15 AM