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Malkin could return in first round; Fleury a ‘work in progress’

Tampa Bay Lightning v Pittsburgh Penguins

PITTSBURGH, PA - FEBRUARY 25: Evgeni Malkin #71 of the Pittsburgh Penguins helps his goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury #29 of the Pittsburgh Penguins defend the net against the Tampa Bay Lightning on February 25, 2012 at CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh defeated Tampa Bay 8-1. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

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Evgeni Malkin can’t say for sure when he’ll be able to return to the Pittsburgh Penguins’ lineup.

But he did shoot a few pucks on Marc-Andre Fleury this morning, and he didn’t rule out a return sometime during the Pens’ first-round series with the Rangers.

Malkin has not played since March 11 due to an upper-body injury that was expected to keep him sidelined for 6-8 weeks.

Malkin’s availability in the first round may depend partly on how his teammates are doing versus the Rangers. The Pens took a 1-0 series lead last night, so, for now, the desperation factor is fairly low.

But if the series were to turn against them, Malkin could become extra motivated to get back in there, and the Penguins could become extra motivated to grant his wish.

As for Fleury? He wasn’t sharing any specifics about his status either.

Game 2 goes Saturday afternoon in Pittsburgh (on NBC).