Parise returns tonight vs. Canadiens
|Parise's back tonight. GETTY IMAGES|
Parise was asked by the coaching staff after the optional morning skate, and gave them the green light: "I said, 'Yes.' I said I was ready."
He returns to the lineup after missing 65 games with a knee injury and will play for the first time since Oct. 30.
Parise said he didn't have trouble sleeping last night after the Devils beat the Flyers, 4-2, to stay alive in the playoff hunt. It might be harder for him to relax before tonight's game, though. He started skating on his own on March 3, then began practicing with the team on March 24.
It's been a long road back.
"I'm looking forward to it," he said. "I just want to try and get out of here as quick as possible and get a nap in. I'm excited. I'm a little nervous, but it should be fun."
When Jacques Lemaire spoke to the media, he still didn't have official word that Parise was in. He added that he had two sets of lines ready just in case. In practices, Parise replaced Ilya Kovalchuk on the top line with Travis Zajac and Nick Palmieri, while Kovalchuk skated the left wing on a trio with Jacob Josefson and Dainius Zubrus.
Will Parise be with Zajac tonight?
"What do you think?" Lemaire responded. "Should I? OK, he'll be with him."
There's no question in Lemaire's mind what Parise adds.
"In my book, he's a heck of a player," the coach said. "Even though he was injured for a long time, to me he still will be good. He's still going to be the same guy."
When asked about his biggest concern after the long layoff, Parise said he didn't have any. The November surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his knee was the first major injury of his career. He had missed just three games over his first five NHL seasons.
"I really know I'm healthy," said the two-time team MVP. "I just want to play. I don't have any concerns. I lost a lot of strength in my legs and things like that, so I know it's not going to be like just coming out of the summer of training. I'm just looking forward to playing and getting a couple of games in before the season ends."
It was always Parise's goal to come back this season. As an added bonus, the Devils are still mathematically in the running for eighth place with five games to go. A win over the Canadiens would stave off elimination for one more day, regardless of what the Sabres do tonight in Washington.
But any point lost by the Devils or gained by both the Rangers and Sabres would end New Jersey's chances.
"We are still alive," Parise said. "We still have a chance. I guess we're not done yet, so we'll see if we can win our last five."
Barring a setback, he expects to finish out the season.
"I have to see how my body responds to tonight and the games themselves, but as of now, me personally, I plan on playing all five of them."
All that's left to do is take that next step. Parise has three goals, three assists in 12 games and will be looking to add to those totals.
"There's no way around it: it's going to be tough," he said. "[Montreal] is gearing up for playoffs, and I think every team that we're going to be playing is gearing up and getting ready for the playoffs. The pace is going to be a lot different than what I've been doing in practice. I'm expecting that and I'm not expecting to be at the top of my game right away, that's just not realistic.
"I think I'm as ready as I can be. Just get the first one out of the way, and then hopefully get more and more comfortable."
Martin Brodeur goes back in net after Johan Hedberg's 34-save performance against the Flyers. Brodeur had started 15 in a row before Hedberg got the call.
He's excited to see Parise back in the lineup.
"It's going to be fun," Brodeur said. "I think for him, you have to feel for him, for what he's been through with his rehab. I've been through it a few years back and I know how hard it is to be by yourself for a long period of time and not see the light at the end of the tunnel. Finally now, tonight, is going to be a night for him to be able to get on the ice and play and be part of a team and have that atmosphere of a team. Like I told him before, the high school girls will be happy to see him back."
Brodeur had some words for Parise after robbing him with a glove save during the morning skate. Whatever it was had assistant coach Larry Robinson laughing pretty hard.
"He didn't look ready because usually he hits the post and in, not in my glove," Brodeur said. "But after that, he hit the post and in, so I said, 'He's OK.' He wasn't ready at 10:20 [a.m.], but at 10:25 he was good."
- Colin White took part in the optional skate, but will not play tonight.
"He'll need a few more days," Lemaire said.