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Last minute breakthrough for Malkin to force lineup change for Game 1?!

The worst was confirmed yesterday, but...

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The Pittsburgh Penguins took to the ice for the third day in a row this morning, as they prepare for Game 1 of their second round Stanley Cup Playoffs matchup against the rival Washington Capitals tonight.

During Wednesday's practice there was a noticeable absence for the second consecutive day, as superstar Evgeni Malkin was not on the ice with his teammates for the skate. Officially Malkin, along with forward Carl Hagelin, is listed as day to day with an unspecified injury. Later that same day, head  coach Mike Sullivan confirmed that both players were officially OUT for Game 1 against the Capitals. Coach Sullivan added that both players will travel with the team to DC but will not play Game 1.

However, there was a surprising sight this morning when Malkin took to the ice with his teammates ahead of the first game of the second round series. According to a French tweet by TVA Sports' Renaud Lavoie, the Russian forward appeared to skate easily on the ice, "quite fluidly" is the exact translation, but that the Penguins had already announced yesterday that he was out for Game 1. 

Here is a picture of Malkin on the ice this morning, provided by the team itself, and you can tell Geno looks quite good and at ease on his skates. The team seemed however quick to dismiss the fans' hopes that Malkin could be added to the starting lineup, by stating that he did indeed take part in the optional skate on Thursday morning, but was wearing a non-contact jersey on the ice.

After the skate, coach Sullivan had to face the media and their many questions about Malkin's status. 

"It's great for our team and great for Geno. It means he's that much closer. He's difference maker. He's not an easy guy to replace, but we have a 'next man up' attitude."

The series between the Capitals and the Penguins is expected to be a very close one, and in the end, the injury to Malkin could tip the balance. Let's hope for the Pens and their fan base that Geno is indeed in the right direction to make a return to action for Game 2 on Sunday afternoon.