PITTSBURGH (93-7 The FAN) — Penguins defenseman Ben Lovejoy returned to practice Monday and made a rather surprising prediction.

Lovejoy, who has been out for two weeks with a knee injury, says he’s ahead of schedule in his recovery and hopes to return in the first round of the playoffs against the Philadelphia Flyers.

“I feel great. This is not my first time on the ice. This is my first practice,” Lovejoy said, according to the Penguins official website. “(Tuesday) is two weeks. I’m feeling good. I can’t tell you what’s going on. Things are feeling good. I’m excited to be back out there practicing. This was another step today. Hopefully, I can be a factor in this series.”

If Lovejoy were able to return he’d provide depth to an ailing corps of defensemen.

“He’s a little ahead of the schedule that was given a couple weeks ago,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. “He’s been doing well. This is his second day in practice. His first day was Saturday.”

Matt Niskanen has been out with an upper-body injury since getting hit from behind at Boston April 3, and he has not returned to practice. Bylsma said Monday that Niskanen is still skating by himself.

There is no timeline for Niskanen’s return.

Without Niskanen, defenseman Brian Strait was recalled from Wilkes-Barre and inserted into the lineup for the final two games of the regular season. Strait or Simon Despres, also in Wilkes-Barre, would be likely call-ups if Niskanen isn’t able to return Wednesday night for Game 1.

Neither have any playoff experience.

Lovejoy was projected to miss 4-6 weeks after arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. At two weeks, he’s well ahead of schedule.

“This is where I expected to be,” he said. “The doctors were very positive right away. Our physical therapist and I have lived together for the last week and six days. We’ve been best friends. Rick Joreitz may as well have moved into my apartment. I wanted to be ready. I’m feeling very good.”

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