The Pittsburgh Penguins don’t yet know their opponent for the upcoming second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, but they received a little more certainty in a different area Wednesday.
Two days after the Penguins had to finish Game 6 at Columbus without the services of Brandon Sutter and Joe Vitale, both centers were on the ice for Pittsburgh’s formal practice session. While coach Dan Bylsma declined to officially update their statuses for the next game, whenever it is, their presence at Consol Energy Center was quite welcome.
Sutter departed Monday’s series-clincher against the Blue Jackets in the second period, following an awkward collision with the side boards. Sutter didn’t return to the game, an eventual 4-3 Penguins victory, but he was seen on the bench at the end of regulation and was walking around the dressing room afterwards.
His emergence in the first round proved critical, as he contributed three goals and two assists in the Penguins’ six-game advancement. He netted the late winner in Game 1, set up Jussi Jokinen‘s deciding goal in Game 5, and scored on a breakaway to give Pittsburgh a 3-0 advantage in Game 6. After his injury, which appeared to be of the lower-body variety, the Penguins struggled to maintain their early pace.
Vitale’s ailment further decreased Pittsburgh’s depth as Columbus made its final charge. The fourth-line pivot banged his knee against Blake Comeau‘s in the third period, for which he was issued a minor penalty. While the league ruled the hit didn’t merit supplemental discipline, it looked ugly, and Vitale got the worst of it. He needed assistance in leaving the ice, but he said Wednesday that he woke up the next morning feeling much better.
The continued health of Sutter, Vitale and fellow center Marcel Goc is critical to the Penguins, who have battled depth issues for much of the season. With all three in the lineup for Games 5 and 6, Pittsburgh was able to unite Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on the top unit – a move that produced encouraging results.
The NHL will announce the Penguins’ second-round schedule as soon as Wednesday’s Game 7 between the Flyers and Rangers is decided. Pittsburgh will face one of those two as the playoffs continue this week.