Penguins' injury status still unclear

May, 7, 2013
5/07/13
2:19
PM ET
UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- Both Brooks Orpik and James Neal took part in the Penguins' morning skate, though it is not clear whether they will return to the lineup Tuesday night for Game 4 against the Islanders at Nassau Coliseum.

The Penguins have adopted a playoff policy of declining to answer any and all injury or lineup questions. That goes for coach Dan Bylsma and the players.

Neither Orpik nor Neal committed to a return, though all indications are that both players are close.

Neal, who practiced with the team's first power-play unit during the skate, said he doesn't expect to be eased back into it, whenever he returns. The 25-year-old winger was forced from Game 1 with a lower-body injury and has not played since.

[+] EnlargeJames Neal
Charles LeClaire\US PresswireJames Neal appears close to returning, but no one will say just how close.
"It's playoffs," Neal said. "I'm not going to go back in unless I can help the team out and play my best."

Orpik could do nothing to help his team while watching from the press box during Game 3's nail-biter of a finish, an experience he described as "the most nervous" he's ever been. The veteran defenseman suffered a lower-body injury during the final week of the regular season and has yet to make an appearance in the 2013 playoffs.

"At this time of year, you want to heal as quick as possible," Orpik said. "It never heals as quickly as you want it to, but you just try to be patient with it. That's tough."

Despite their abundance of weapons, the Penguins have rarely been at full strength this season. Most notably, they were without superstar Sidney Crosby for more than a month after he sustained a broken jaw March 30. The prospect of having a healthy lineup is obviously an encouraging one for the team.

But it won't automatically translate into a win.

"I think we have confidence in our abilities. We have still yet to get to the top of our game, so I think individually that's up to us," Crosby said. "We all have confidence in what we need to do and what that is. We still have to go out there and make sure we're doing it. That's the biggest challenge."

Letang gets Norris nod

Penguins defenseman Kris Letang was announced as one of the three finalists for the 2013 Norris Trophy, an award given each year to the league's best defenseman.

Letang's 38 points this season tied fellow Norris finalist P.K. Subban of the Montreal Canadiens for the lead among all NHL defensemen, despite the fact that Letang played in only 35 games.

The 26-year-old blueliner said he was honored to be among the finalists, which also includes Minnesota’s Ryan Suter.

"Obviously, I'm honored to be nominated by all the people that voted for me," Letang said.

Beyond the offensive ability he provides, particularly on the power play, Letang is often employed against the opposing team's top line in a shutdown role. That balance has been a vital element of his game this season.

"You need to play in every situation. I think that's the main thing,” he said. “Obviously playing against the top line every night, that's the ultimate goal for every defenseman.”

Islanders like their speed advantage

Despite trailing the Penguins 2-1 in the series, the Islanders are a confident bunch heading into Game 4.

Following a Game 1 rout in which the Isles were easily dispatched 5-0, they have rebounded well with a win in Game 2 and a strong performance in Game 3, despite falling in overtime.

But it's not just about their ability to compete with the top-seeded Penguins. The Islanders believe they can pull off the upset.

"We know we can beat them," said second-line center Frans Nielsen. "We want this to go as far as possible. This series, we've felt they have a lot of guys on their team that can't skate with us. So we want this one to go to seven, because we want to get [it] as tough as possible."

Nielsen said speed has been the Islanders' biggest advantage.

"I think when we're moving our feet, they've got guys up front, on the [defense] that we can see are struggling a little bit," he said. "We've gotta skate with 'em. If we stop skating, we don't have a chance."

Even Crosby admitted the Islanders have created problems for the Penguins with their transition game and opportunistic style of play.

Pittsburgh enjoys the distinct advantage on special teams, but the Islanders have been solid at even strength.

"They've probably carried the play a little bit more," Crosby said. "They've had a little more zone time, I think. They're coming hard, but I think we've hurt ourselves with turnovers. I think that's something we can definitely improve on."
Katie Strang covers the NHL for ESPN.com. She is a graduate of Michigan State University and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
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