In a season full of wrongs, the New Jersey Devils (36-36-5) are finally getting something right.
Zach Parise, out since October 30 with a torn meniscus, returns to the lineup tonight against the Montreal Canadiens (41-30-7) tonight at the Prudential Center.
Parise, who missed 64 games, was excited to get back on the ice.
"I just want to play," Parise told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record. "I know I lost a lot of strength in my legs and things like that, so I'm not going to be like just coming out of summer training. I'm just looking forward to playing and getting a couple of games in before the season ends."
Parise's return coincides with New Jersey's desperate push to remain alive in the playoff chase. Entering tonight's game, they sit 10 points behind both the Buffalo Sabres and New York Rangers for the final playoff spot. A point from either team will shut the door on the Devils' postseason hopes.
The Devils' left-winger wanted to return, no matter the team's position.
"I wanted to and we were always planning on it regardless of how the season turned out, regardless of if we were making it or not," he told Gulitti. "We were always doing the rehab and everything with the intention of playing at the end of the year. Nothing changed. That was the game plan from the start."
Parise returns to a lineup that's suddenly hot. After scoring three or more goals just once during a 1-4-1 slide, New Jersey scored seven goals in their past two games, both wins. Those wins kept the Devils afloat in the playoff race.
Patrik Elias played hero last night, recording his eighth career hat trick in a 4-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers. Brian Rolston assisted on all three goals, and Johan Hedberg stopped 34 shots in his first start since February 25.
Martin Brodeur admitted that Parise's return will give a jolt to the entire lineup.
"It's going to be fun," Brodeur told Gulitti. "For him, you have to feel for him from what he's been through with his rehab. I went through it two years back and I know how hard it is to be by yourself for a long period of time and not seeing the lightat the end of the tunnel. And 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 the team. And like I told him before, 'The high school girls will be happy to see him back.'"
The Devils will face a Canadiens team losing their grasp on their playoff spot. Losing four of their last five games put the Habs in a vulnerable position. Montreal holds the sixth spot in the conference, but only two points separate them from the Sabres and Rangers. The Carolina Hurricanes, ninth in the conference, sit only five points back.
Carey Price hasn't played up to his early-season level during the team's recent slide. The Canadiens' goalie is just 1-5-0 with a 3.86 goals-against average in his last six starts.
The Canadiens have not fared well against the Devils in recent memory, especially on the road. Despite winning two straight at the Prudential Center, they are just 4-23-1 with four ties while playing in New Jersey. The Devils have also won nine of the last 11 meetings.
Brodeur will start for the Devils. In 61 career starts against his hometown Habs, Brodeur is 40-16-0 with five ties, a 1.74 goals-against average and a .933 save percentage. He's shut them out nine times.
Even with their playoff relevancy hanging by a thread, Parise believes his team still has a run left in them.
"We are still alive," Parise told Gulitti. "We still have a chance. I guess we're not done yet, so we'll see whether we can win our last five."