Evgeni Malkin injury update: Penguins star (upper body) expected back for playoff push

The Penguins appear set to get center Evgeni Malkin back Thursday as they continue to push for a playoff spot in the regular season’s waning days.

Out since March 16 with an upper body injury, Malkin said Wednesday (via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) that everything felt good during a practice in which he pushed the pace and even did some physical work in the corners.

“I feel like every day is better,” Malkin said. “I want to get back and start playing. We’ll see [Thursday]. If I feel fine, I have a good chance to play.”

Barring any setbacks, Malkin likely will face the Red Wings at home, the teams’ second matchup this week.

Malkin’s presence could give Pittsburgh’s offense a much-needed boost. 

Since Jan. 2, he has points in 22 of 27 games, totaling nine goals and 31 points. But he has missed eight games since Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo cross-checked him in the ribs in mid-March and could only watch as Pittsburgh, with a chance to clinch a playoff spot, lost Tuesday in Detroit, 4-1.

The Penguins, though 4-2-2 in his absence, have scored two or fewer goals in six of their past nine games, with zero power-play goals in seven of the games.

Per the Post-Gazette, Malkin skated on a line with Bryan Rust and Phil Kessel as part of a restructured top six during Wednesday’s practice and also reclaimed his spot on the top power play.

“You always get a boost when guys get back in the lineup,” Sidney Crosby said. “Especially this time of year, games are so important. It would be huge.”

The Penguins are in third place in the Metropolitan Division, two points back of the Islanders. Pittsburgh can’t win the division but could earn home-ice in the playoffs’ opening round with wins in their two remaining games (they close the season vs. the Rangers on Saturday) coupled with a loss by the Islanders, who play the Panthers on Thursday and finish with the Capitals on Saturday.

In other Penguins injury news, defenseman Kris Letang (upper body) rejoined the team Wednesday for practice but was wearing a non-contact jersey. He has missed the past four games.