Somewhat surprisingly, forwards Brandon Sutter and Joe Vitale practiced with the Penguins Wednesday at Consol Energy Center, less than 48 hours after they got hurt in the clinching Game 6 win against Columbus.
Sutter was limping badly Monday night as he left the game, a 4-3 win. Vitale was slumped on the ice for a few minutes after he had a knee-on-knee collision with Blue Jackets winger Blake Comeau.
“Hopefully, seeing them on the ice is an indication that they’re good” for Round 2, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.
Sutter left the game after a run-in with Columbus winger Nick Foligno along the boards, but he said the injury actually occurred earlier in the game.
“Not going to talk about it too much,” Sutter said, alluding to the secrecy that shrouds injury details in the playoffs. “All I can say is it felt pretty good [at practice]. I’m happy with the way it’s gone the past two days. Shouldn’t be a problem going forward.”
Sutter had a strong first-round series against Columbus, with three goals, two assists and strong defensive work. He credited his experience a year ago, his first time in the NHL playoffs.
“That first go-round with it is a different level,” he said. “Last year was a fun experience. … That experience definitely helps. You get a chance to come here your second time at it, you know what to expect a bit more and are a little better prepared for it.”
Vitale initially seemed to have what could be a long-term knee injury.
“The way Joe was injured and left the ice, you worried,” Bylsma said.
As it turned out, the Penguins’ flight home Monday night was delayed several hours, and, by the time the team boarded, Vitale was feeling better.
“It was a little bit of a scare when it happened,” Vitale said. “I’m taking it one day at a time. All I can say is I woke up [Wednesday], and it felt great. It felt good enough to skate, and it felt good out there.”
The only player missing from practice Wednesday was defenseman Brooks Orpik, who sat out the final two games of Round 1 because of an unspecified injury.
The Penguins didn’t learn their second-round opponent until Wednesday night, but they knew that regardless of whether it was Philadelphia or the New York Rangers, they would be facing a team that could be more tired than them.
The Flyers and Rangers’ Game 7 Wednesday was their second game in as many nights and their fourth in six days. The Penguins played three games in that same stretch and have been off since Monday night.
At the other end of the spectrum is Montreal, which opens its series against Boston tonight after being off the past eight days after a sweep of Tampa Bay.
“I think we’re in a good situation,” winger James Neal said. “We had a good day off [Tuesday] to recharge, refresh and come back for a good practice. It’s good to get out there, enjoy yourself, have some good pace to practice. The guys are feeling good.”
It didn’t bother them that they practiced without knowing their next opponent.
“I think for us, it’s more important to focus on yourself,” defenseman Rob Scuderi said. “If you’re taking the game to them, what they do is minimized.”
Improvement pleases Bylsma
In retrospect, Bylsma said, the Penguins didn’t hit their playoff stride until later in the Columbus series. He attributes that to the fact that the Penguins were fairly well locked into a division title and the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference and didn’t have to scratch and claw in the stretch run for a playoff spot or positioning.
“We were in our spot, on top in the Metro Division, for a long time,” Bylsma said. “I don’t think we had [to push] like a Columbus team and like some other teams that were [playing] maybe 15 or 20 games of playoff [-style] hockey and driving and pushing for every point in the regular season.
“We won hockey games, but we hadn’t gotten to that [desperate] type of play from our group. We heard the word, ‘passion,’ and I don’t think there’s any guy in that [locker] room that wasn’t ready and willing to win a Stanley Cup right from the start of the playoffs, but how you have to play and the price you have to pay on the ice, that’s another level. … I thought Game 5 and 6 were our best in that regard by all year long.”
Shelly Anderson: email@example.com, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly.