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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Pen feeling no pain, close to coming back

Malkin could play as soon as tonight

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PITTSBURGH -- Still headache-free and with his short-term memory completely returned, Evgeni Malkin went through a full-contact practice with many of his Pittsburgh Penguins teammates Sunday.

Malkin, who has missed the past four games due to a concussion, said he "felt pretty good" immediately after the workout at a suburban rink.

Coach Dan Bylsma said the next step was for Malkin to pass an imPACT test. The team did not rule out a return today when the Penguins host the Tampa Bay Lightning, but Malkin indicated he'd prefer more time.

"Good practice today, but I need a couple more, I think," last year's NHL MVP and scoring champion said, who noted the practice was not vigorous. "It was just a little bit tough to push my back and shoulders. But we will see. I feel pretty good, so we'll see the next step."

Malkin was speaking to the media for the first time since he was injured colliding with the boards during a win over Florida Feb. 22. He has skated on his own twice since.

Malkin said he has not experienced headaches, neck soreness or other symptoms, only short-term memory loss the day of the collision.

After watching Sidney Crosby struggle to shake concussion symptoms for more than a year before returning last spring, Malkin said he is not worried his injury will be as serious.

"I'm not scared because I know it's hockey and hockey has injuries sometimes," Malkin said. "I think (the concussion) is not so bad because I feel pretty good right now. We'll see. I think I can come back soon."

Malkin said he's watched video of his collision with the boards behind the net after he lost his balance while skating with the puck toward the net. He stayed prone on the ice for more than a minute until skating to the locker-room under his own power.

Malkin characterized the play as "bad luck" and did not place any blame on Panthers defenceman Erik Gudbranson.

"In highlights, it looks bad," Malkin said. "But it's not that bad."

Malkin joked with teammates, team staffers and media members Sunday, and he even cracked a smile when asked if he can get back into the scoring race.

"I'll try," said Malkin, whose 21 points (four goals, 17 assists) leave him 13 points behind Crosby for the NHL lead.

Malkin had 109 points (50 goals, 59 assists) in 75 games last season.

"He's at six days of feeling real well," Bylsma said. "He's had a couple sessions on the ice and two days of off-ice workouts where he went hard. Today, he was cleared for contact and we saw him go through three drills designed to give him and provide him with that contact. So he did have that down low, and he did well today."

Malkin was not wearing any sort of non-contact jersey Sunday, and teammates said they weren't instructed to treat him any differently than they would for a normal workout.

The practice was optional for the Penguins, who finish off a stretch of seven games in 13 days today.

"He was the same Geno," defenceman Deryk Engelland said "It's good to see him out there and doing battle drills with him. He's a huge part of our team and our success, and to have a guy like that back is always good."

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 4, 2013 C2

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