Evgeni Malkin hopes to play Game 1

PITTSBURGH -- Former NHL scoring champion and playoff MVP Evgeni Malkin practiced with the Penguins on Tuesday for the first time since being felled by a foot injury March 23, and it appears there's a good chance he will play in the team's playoff opener Wednesday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The center skated full-out with his teammates, and while coach Dan Bylsma said he would wait and see how Malkin reacted to the workout before making any lineup decisions, Malkin said he feels good and is hopeful of playing.

"It's my first practice with the team and I feel great," Malkin told reporters after the Penguins went through a lengthy workout at Consol Energy Center. "We did a little bit of battle. But I'm not in pain and nothing is sore."

If it were up to him, he'd play.

"We see tomorrow," he said. "Feel great, shape great."

Malkin has not played since being sidelined with a hairline fracture in his foot. He finished second on the team in scoring behind Sidney Crosby, with 23 goals and 72 points in 60 games.

He skated Tuesday with regular linemates James Neal and Jussi Jokinen, as well as the team's top power-play unit, suggesting his return is imminent.

Needless to say, if Malkin is able to play it will significantly enhance the Penguins' chances of advancing against a Blue Jackets team that is taking part in the playoffs for just the second time in franchise history.

The Penguins, the Metropolitan Division champs, will host Columbus, the top wild-card team in the Eastern Conference, in Games 1 and 2 on Wednesday and Saturday.

Despite a season that saw Pittsburgh log more than 500 man games lost to injury, the Penguins appear to be getting healthy at the right time.

Center Joe Vitale, also sidelined with a foot injury, took part in practice Tuesday, as well.

"We'll see how they are and react before we talk about what our lineup is going to be for tomorrow's game," Bylsma said.