Kovalchuk felt 'best so far' at Friday practice
NEWARK, N.J. -- Ilya Kovalchuk called practice on Friday one of his best since he hurt his shoulder almost four weeks ago, meaning there is a chance the New Jersey Devils could have their high-scoring right wing back in the lineup as early as Saturday afternoon, when they face the Florida Panthers.
Kovalchuk, though, is still hesitant to make any predictions.
"We were taking one-timers and this is definitely one of the better days in a long time," Kovalchuk said. "The coaches will decide and we'll see [Saturday]."
The Devils on Thursday snapped a 10-game winless streak (0-6-4) that coincided with Kovalchuk's absence. They are still mathematically alive in the Stanley Cup Playoff race, but even with the 3-0 win over the Philadelphia Flyers they remain six points out of eighth with only five games remaining.
They could fall to eight points out if the New York Rangers win in Buffalo on Friday night.
"We're still fighting for our lives for a playoff spot and we want to ice the best possible team we can," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said. "Obviously [Kovalchuk] would be a part of that."
Kovalchuk did not skate on a regular line during the regular portion of practice Friday and was instead rotating in with Andrei Loktionov, Krystofer Barch and Tom Kostopoulos. He stayed on for a lengthy extra skate with those players as well as defensemen Alexander Urbom and Anton Volchenkov.
However, none of that means Kovalchuk wouldn't be able to play Saturday if he responds well.
"I didn't skate with the contact at all for three weeks and [Friday] we were doing one-on-ones and two-on-twos," Kovalchuk said. "I feel pretty good and we'll see how I respond [Friday night] and [Saturday] morning we'll decide."