Cooke Returns To Practice; Niskanen Still Absent

PITTSBURGH (93-7 The FAN) — Penguins winger Matt Cooke returned to practice Tuesday after being given a “maintenance day” Monday by head coach Dan Bylsma.

With Cooke back, Pittsburgh was one player away from being at full strength heading into Game 1 of the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs at 7:30 p.m. tonight against Philadelphia at the CONSOL Energy Center.

Defenseman Matt Niskanen did not participate in full practice. Rather, he skated by himself before practice for the second day in a row.

There is no timetable on a possible return for Niskanen. Bylsma listed the lineup as a game-time decision.

Defenseman Ben Lovejoy participated in full-team practice for the second straight day. He had been out 13 days after going through arthroscopic knee surgery on his right knee before returning to practice Monday.

Bylsma wouldn’t rule Lovejoy out for tonight’s game. However, he gave no comment as to whether or not Lovejoy is close to returning, either.

“Ben Lovejoy is a guy that played after long absences three times this year and played really well when he stepped back in,” Bylsma said. “He has played in the postseason. He has experience there. He’s been a guy that stepped in for us when we’ve had injuries this year and in different situations. When and if Ben gets healthy, he is a guy we’re comfortable with putting in situations.”

If Lovejoy and Niskanen are unable to play tonight the Penguins would have to turn to a call-up from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton — likely Brian Strait or Simon Despres. Neither have playoff experience in the NHL.

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