PITTSBURGH (93-7 The FAN) — Two key pieces of the Penguins offensive attack were pronounced healthy and “ready to go” for Game 1 of Pittsburgh’s first round playoff series Wednesday against Philadelphia.
Forwards James Neal — second on the team with 40 goals and 81 points — and Steve Sullivan — sixth on the team with 48 points — took extra time off at the end of the regular season to heal up nagging injuries and will be in the lineup in Game 1.
Neal missed the final two regular season games after suffering a lower-body injury against Boston. He said the injury is no longer and issue and he’ll be at full health come Game 1.
“I’ll be all right. I had a good week of rest,” Neal said Monday. “That’s what I needed. I’ll be ready to go, 100 percent”
Sullivan missed the final two regular season games as well with a lower-body injury. He said he feels “awesome” and he probably could have returned to the lineup sooner. However, he felt it was best to get fully healthy for the playoffs.
“I thought I could have probably played Saturday (against Philadelphia), but those extra couple of days didn’t hurt,” Sullivan said. “I thought I was good to go by Saturday. I knew (practice Monday) would be a non-issue.”
The return of both players means the Penguins top two lines will be in tact. Neal has spent most of the season on Evgeni Malkin’s line with Chris Kunitz. Sullivan has played mostly alongside Sidney Crosby and Pascal Dupuis since Crosby’s most recent return.
The top two lines, combined with Jordan Staal, Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy manning the third line, give the Penguins a familiar look and, they hope, consistency.
“We just have to stay confident with our play,” Neal said. “We can do a lot of great things out there and (the Flyers) can still turn around and score a couple goals on us. Stay disciplined, stay confident with the way we play. If we stay consistent with it we’ll have a successful outcome.”
A successful outcome is something Sullivan, 37, was hoping for after signing in Pittsburgh as a free agent last summer. Getting himself healthy heading into the playoffs was of the utmost importance, as he says he’s never had a better chance at winning the Stanley Cup.
“It’s probably the best opportunity that I’ve had,” Sullivan said. “I think I’m very excited, energized and ready to go. These opportunities don’t come along very often so I’m going to make the best of my opportunity here.”