SAN JOSE -- The San Jose Sharks have been looking for a spark on offense, and they'll get one Thursday night against Nashville when winger Martin Havlat returns to the lineup for the first time since Dec. 17 when he injured his left hamstring against Edmonton.
Havlat underwent surgery to repair a partially torn tendon and missed 39 games. He's been practicing with his teammates for a few weeks, but tonight he'll jump back into the middle of a heated playoff race.
"Everything is a challenge after you come back after a long injury," Havlat said. "Everybody's going 100 mph. I just have to get in and try to be helpful. Every game right now until the end is very important.
"Basically now every game is a playoff game. Any point is very important, and we're playing a great team. They've been great the whole season. It's not going to be easy."
Havlat will skate on the second line with center Patrick Marleau and winger Ryane Clowe.
"Marty's a creative player," Clowe said. "We can use every goal we can get right now. Marty creates chances. Obviously on the power play he'll give us a little bit more depth on that second unit. I think his creativity, speed, his offensive awareness -- a high-end player like that, you're going to miss him when he's out. We had a little bit of chemistry there at the start of year. So hopefully we mingle good again."
Sharks coach Todd McLellan said he'll have to "manage" Havlat's minutes tonight and monitor his physical condition.
"It's hard to step in at this time of the year with the way the pace is going and the intensity of the games," McLellan said. "It's certainly not October hockey, and it's definitely not December hockey, and that's the last time he played, and this team tonight can really skate. They play the game fast, and he'll have to integrate himself quickly and we'll have to keep an eye on him."
The Predators will being keeping an eye on Havlat, too. He has 37 points in 30 career games against Nashville.
"He has great one-on-one skill," Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. "In the past we probably haven't paid enough attention to him."
Trotz, though, said it won't be easy for Havlat to get up to speed in his first game back after such a long layoff.
"His skill level will be there. He's a gifted player. He skates naturally. It's tough. It's hard to catch the train when you've been out for a while," Trotz said. "The pace is going to be really high, got people leaning on you. It's different. It's hard. I think you always need a couple games to get back in."
Havlat, who came to the Sharks from Minnesota in a trade for Dany Heatley in July, missed the entire preseason and the first four regular-season games while recovering from shoulder surgery. He was just catching his stride when suffered a freak injury against Edmonton, catching a skate on the boards he was trying to get back on the ice during a line change at HP Pavilion.
Havlat had a goal in that game and a pair of assists in his previous game against Colorado. For the season, he has 2 goals and 13 assists in 26 games.
Here's how the lineups could look Thursday night when these teams meet at HP Pavilion:
Logan Couture - Joe Thornton - Joe Pavelski
Ryane Clowe - Patrick Marleau - Martin Havlat
Daniel Winnik - Dominic Moore - Torrey Mitchell
TJ Galiardi - Andrew Desjardins - Benn Ferriero
Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Dan Boyle
Douglas Murray - Brent Burns
Justin Braun - Jason Demers
Sergei Kostitsyn - Mike Fisher - Martin Erat
Andrei Kostitsyn - David Legwand - Patric Hornqvist
Gabriel Bourque - Paul Gaustad - Craig Smith
Jordin Tootoo - Nick Spaling - Colin Wilson
Ryan Suter - Shea Weber
Francis Bouillon - Ryan Ellis
Hal Gill - Jack Hillen