Pittsburgh Penguins left wing Chris Kunitz (14), center Evgeni Malkin (71) and Pittsburgh Penguins right wing Patric Hornqvist (72) celebrate the winning goal in front of San Jose Sharks goalie Martin Jones (31) during the third period of an NHL hockey game on Thursday, Oct. 20, 2016, in Pittsburgh. The Penguins defeated the Sharks 3-2. (Fred Vuich/Associated Press.File)
PITTSBURGH (AP) — Pittsburgh Penguins forward Chris Kunitz returned to practice on Sunday, giving the defending Stanley Cup champions hope the veteran forward can contribute at some point during the team’s postseason run.
Kunitz wore a non-contact jersey during the workout. The 37-year-old hasn’t played since being diagnosed with a “longer term” lower-body injury following a victory over the New York Rangers on March 31. The Penguins have been off since eliminating Columbus from the playoffs in five games last Thursday.
Pittsburgh’s second-round series begins this week and Kunitz’s appearance is a promising sign the two-time Cup winner will be available sooner rather than later.
Coach Mike Sullivan said the team will see how Kunitz’s body responds before deciding whether Kunitz will practice Monday. Kunitz is one of Pittsburgh’s most physical players, carving out a niche during his 13-year career by getting to the front of the net.
Kunitz is second behind Washington defenseman Brooks Orpik in playoff hits over the last 11 seasons with 437. He has played 106 of his 141 career playoff games for the Penguins, a mainstay for a team perennially among the Stanley Cup contenders. Kunitz is in the final year of his contract and with a glut of young forwards, it’s uncertain whether he be back next season.
“I think anytime you miss games in the playoffs, you never know if you’re going to get another game in,” Kunitz said.
Penguins defenseman Chad Ruhwedel also skated in a non-contact jersey on Sunday. Ruhwedel missed the first round with an upper-body injury.
“They’re that much closer,” Sullivan said. “That’s really encouraging from our standpoint.”
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