Asked about the pressure of the playoffs vs. enjoying them, Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury boiled it down to this:
"It's fun when you win. It [stinks] when you lose. So you try to keep winning."
Fleury did his best Tuesday after practice to fend off questions about his playoff performance since the Penguins won the Stanley Cup in 2009. Last year, he was pulled in the first round against the New York Islanders and made only one subsequent appearance as the Penguins advanced to the Eastern Conference final.
Since then, Fleury put together a strong, 39-win season.
"I wish I could have finished at 40 wins, but, other than that, I'm pretty happy with how things went," he said.
But now the playoffs are back, beginning tonight against Columbus at Consol Energy Center. That puts him in the spotlight as much as or more than any of his teammates.
"When the playoffs come around, goalies are looked at a lot," he said. "I'm looking forward to getting back in there."
So how does he block out the criticism and second-guessing?
"Not read too much. Not watch [TV]," he said. "And remind myself that I have won one more Stanley Cup than a lot of people.
"I know I can do it. I know we have a solid team. I'll try my best to get to it again."
Fleury has a strong backer in team captain Sidney Crosby.
"The way he's played speaks for itself," Crosby said. "Me having to defend him at this point is pretty funny. He's done everything he's had to do to bounce back."
Crosby pointed out that Fleury wasn't the only Penguins player who is trying to bounce back from last spring. Crosby had no points in a sweep by the Bruins.
"A goalie doesn't have the luxury of having a couple of bad games," Crosby said. "I had four not-so-great ones against Boston, and I'm still playing.
"He's starting Game 1, I'm sure, and I'm sure he'll be ready. He has not-so-great memories, I'm sure, from [previous playoffs], but I think he's moved past it. We're behind him and know what he brings."
Unofficially, Malkin will play
It's not official, but indications are that Penguins center Evgeni Malkin will be ready to return from a foot injury tonight for Game 1 against the Blue Jackets.
The only thing that might hold him back would be an adverse reaction to his first full practice with the team Tuesday.
"I feel great. I skated the whole practice. We'll see [today]," said Malkin, who missed the final 11 regular-season games.
He said the decision will be made jointly among him, the coaches and the medical staff, but that if "it was my decision, I want to play."
Malkin practiced in his customary spots, centering the second line with wingers Jussi Jokinen and James Neal and manning a point on the power play.
"He looks like his old self," Neal said.
Malkin got hurt when he got hit with a puck against St. Louis. For a time when he was skating separately from practice, he was using protective shields on his skates like those worn by players who often block shots.
"I tried them, but I didn't like them," he said.
Also back at practice was forward Joe Vitale, who missed the last 12 games of the season because of an unspecified injury.
Vitale worked on the fourth line. He said he still considers himself day to day.
Vokoun No. 3 goalie for now
Tomas Vokoun, who replaced Fleury last season in the playoffs, for now will serve as the team's No. 3 goaltender, coach Dan Bylsma said, and that means he won't be at most practices so that Fleury and backup Jeff Zatkoff get all the work they need.
Vokoun has not played in the NHL this season after having a procedure to dissolve a blood clot in September.
He spent the weekend on a conditioning assignment with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League. He was 1-1.
Tuesday, Vokoun skated before practice with forward Chris Conner (foot injury).
The Penguins returned three players to Wilkes-Barre, forwards Chuck Kobasew and Harry Zolnierczyk, and defenseman Simon Despres.
Bylsma said that while Despres, a 2009 first-round draft pick, was not slated to be in the Game 1 lineup tonight, in part his demotion was based on the team having nine healthy defensemen after an injury-riddled season and Despres not needing to clear waivers to be sent to the AHL.
"It's not a matter of Simon not being in the picture, but it is an opportunity for him to go down and play some games and gain confidence and be ready to get called up and play when he does," Bylsma said.
Shelly Anderson: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly.