Penguins' Staal inches closer to return

MONTREAL – It seems nothing can hold Jordan Staal down.

"He'll play with one arm, one leg; it's Staalsy," Pittsburgh forward Ruslan Fedotenko said in the wake of Staal's participation in Wednesday's optional practice at the Bell Centre. "We're not surprised. Maybe you guys are surprised."

Four days after undergoing a surgical procedure to repair a severed tendon along the top of his right foot suffered in Game 1 against Montreal in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, Staal took the ice in full equipment and went through the paces for more than 45 minutes.

Staal joined a couple of regulars -- Tyler Kennedy, Craig Adams and Fedotenko -- and the team's scratches in a series of shooting drills and then, surprisingly, took part in a 20-minute 4-on-4, short-ice scrimmage. It was a far more demanding test than the five-minute twirl, without pads, that Staal put himself through before Tuesday's morning skate.

Jordan Staal

Center - PIT

GOALS: 2 | ASST: 2 | PTS: 4

SOG: 22 | +/-: -4

"I think when he first got out there today, he was kind of putting his toes in the water and see how his foot would react," said coach Dan Bylsma, who took part in the drills and scrimmage. "Then, as you watched the 4-on-4 there, a couple of times he busted through the defense and by guys and you probably didn't see anything that would remind you that he may have an injury with his foot."

Oh, there is an injury there, for sure. A pretty significant one, according to reports.

"I mean it was pretty scary a few days ago," Sidney Crosby said Wednesday as he discussed Staal's return.

Staal himself says there is still a good deal of pain in his foot -- which he called a "big blob down there" -- and quite a bit of swelling. Yet he was champing at the bit to get back out on the ice, almost badgering the training staff to make it happen far quicker than anyone anticipated. 

"I haven't had that feeling obviously in a long time when you're not playing and it's not a fun feeling," said Staal, who had not missed a game through injury during his four-year NHL career. "You want to get back as soon as you can no matter what -- whether there's pain involved or not."

Staal has shown he is willing to work through the pain. Wednesday, he cracked a few smiles during the practice session, especially when his teammates mockingly cheered him as he took the ice, the last one on for the practice.

"I think it was more just being able to stay out there as long as I can and not feeling that it's getting worse," Staal said. "That was a good thing. It wasn't really getting any worse."

Staal even survived a collision with Fedotenko during practice that left the players on the ice holding their breath a bit.

"He was testing me out there." Staal laughed. "Obviously, practice is one thing, but in games there's hits and all that stuff and leaning on each other and getting in scrums. Mentally for a player that's tough to get into and Rus was just testing me a little bit."

Staal clearly passed the test.

"I'm feeling pretty happy," he said.

And Staal's teammates are happy for him, happy to see No. 11 back out on the ice and working his way back to playing shape.

"Whether he is back right away or not; to see him on the ice, that's a great sign for us -- and especially for him," Crosby said. "We'll see where it goes. But, it's always a big step to get back on the ice."

But did Staal do enough Wednesday to convince the team's trainers and coaches that he is ready to rejoin the fray against the Montreal Canadiens in Game 4?

It appeared that Bylsma might just be leaning that way before he caught himself and reverted to the secretive coachspeak that rules the press conference room at this time of the year.

"We'll see," Bylsma said. "He'll talk to the trainers today and see how his foot reacts. Judging by the end of his practice, we're a lot more comfortable with how he was skating than at the beginning of practice. If he can skate like that, there is a possibility -- depending on how he feels tomorrow morning -- that he could still be day-to-day."