Wednesday NHL: Lightning (72 points) at Penguins (95 points)
The Pittsburgh Penguins might be at full strength Wednesday night for the first time in weeks as center Evgeni Malkin returned to practice Tuesday and defenseman Sergei Gonchar also practiced. Both still are questionable for Wednesday’s game against Tampa Bay.
The Penguins are -243 moneyline favorites on WagerWeb.com’s NHL odds for tonight’s game.
Malkin, who has been bothered most of the month by a foot injury, managed to make it through the entire practice he didn’t sound too confident he would play tonight. He is second on the team with 24 goals and 70 points. The Penguins are 5-7-1 without Malkin.
“We’ll see,” he said. “It feels better, but it isn’t 100 percent. I need to make sure it is OK for the playoffs.”
Gonchar (undisclosed illness) also practiced after missing three games. Coach Dan Bylsma said Gonchar and Malkin will be evaluated at Wednesday morning’s skate.
Tampa Bay hasn’t had much go right this year other than 20-year-old Steven Stamkos, who is two goals behind Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby (47) for the league goal-scoring lead. With 45 goals, Stamkos already has the second-best single-season goal scoring mark in franchise history. If he can reach the 50-goal mark, he would be the second player in team history to hit that mark. C Vinny Lecavalier won the Richard Trophy with 52 goals in 2006-07.
The Lightning enter off a 3-2 loss in Columbus on Tuesday and have zero chance of making the playoffs. Tampa Bay is 5-4-1 in the second half of back-to-back games. Tonight is the last game Tampa Bay will play at Mellon Arena as the Penguins are set to start next season across the street at Consol Energy Center. The Lightning are 11-16-5 all-time at Mellon.
Bolts goalie Mike Smith is 2-3 with a 2.02 goals-against average in five career starts against Pittsburgh. The Penguins have taken five of the last six meetings with the Lightning, including two of three this season. Crosby has three assists in the season series.