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THN.com Playoff Blog: Staal working towards a Game 4 return

Jordan Staal has two goals and four points in seven playoff games this season. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Jordan Staal has two goals and four points in seven playoff games this season. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images)

MONTREAL – The mystery surrounding whether or not Jordan Staal will play in Game 4 tomorrow night just days after surgery continues, but you get the sense Staal and his teammates figure he’s good to go.

“No arms, no legs, that’s not a problem for Staalsy,” said teammate Ruslan Fedotenko. “Doesn’t matter. He plays.”

Staal was equally buoyant after participating in his first full workout since suffering a severe foot laceration during a collision with P.K. Subban in Game 1. But Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, who has fully been indoctrinated into the Cone of Silence Society when it comes to injuries in the playoffs, was brilliantly ambiguous when discussing Staal’s chance of playing.

During the Penguins optional practice Wednesday, Staal was tentative at first, but grew stronger as the workout progressed. Toward the end of the practice during a 4-on-4 drill, he split the defense and charged hard at the net, which was a good sign.

“Judging by the end of his practice, I was a lot more comfortable with how he was skating than when he first got out there,” Bylsma said. “If he can skate like that, then there’s a possibility, depending on how he is (Thursday) morning, he still could be day-to-day.”

Uh, OK. That clears things up.

The injury was grisly, to be sure. No surprise, nobody is saying what the extent of the injury was, but we know it required immediate surgery. The tendon damage was probably not severe, but it was significant.

“When I got back to the bench I looked down and it wasn’t looking good,” Staal said. “When I got the skate off, I realized it wasn’t just a cut and I went straight to the hospital, had a little surgery and went home and had a good sleep.”

If it were anybody but Staal, there might be less of a question concerning whether he will play. But Staal has been something of an ironman in the NHL. This is the first time he’s ever missed a game due to injury and prior to the injury, had appeared in 358 consecutive regular season and playoff games.

One of the interesting subplots to the Staal injury is that by not having to deal with that much depth down the middle, the Canadiens have been able to intensify their efforts on Sidney Crosby. There were times in Game 3 when Crosby looked very frustrated with the physical pounding he was receiving from the Canadiens. In the first three games of this series, Crosby has just three shots and two assists, but has been making big contributions in other areas.

In Game 3, for example, he drew the penalty on Hal Gill that led to the Penguins’ first goal, one in which he provided a screen on the point shot from Evgeni Malkin. He went 13-8 in the faceoff circle and was a presence on every inch of the 200 feet of ice.

“With Jordan out, in certain situations he’s our faceoff guy,” Bylsma said of his captain. “Five times (in Game 3) he just went out for the faceoff to win the draw.”

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Even though Crosby didn’t produce offensively, he felt much better about his performance in Game 3 than Game 2, when he went minus-2. He was certainly much more pleased with his two-way game.

“I don’t want to be not creating things and hurting us in other areas,” Crosby said. “That’s the worst thing you can do. There are times when everybody has a tough night, but you’ve got to make sure you make up for that and you’re strong the rest of the way through. As an offensive player, if you’re not creating as much, you’d better make sure you’re not cheating offensively at the other end.”

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Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear Wednesdays and Fridays and his column, Campbell's Cuts, appears Mondays.

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