NEWARK, N.J. --New Jersey Devils forward Ilya Kovalchuk will be a game-time decision on Thursday when his team battles the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal round series at Prudential Center (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC).
Kovalchuk was sidelined for Game 2 Tuesday in Philadelphia -- a 4-1 Devils victory -- with a lower-body injury but was back on the ice Thursday morning during the team's practice. He skated on a line with regular fourth-line forwards Stephen Gionta and Ryan Carter.
"I just have to make sure I'm ready for the game … I feel really good," Kovalchuk told the media. "It will be a coach's decision. I just have to prepare myself for the game and we'll see."
There's no doubt the addition of Kovalchuk would add some additional spark to the lineup, and perhaps help carry over the momentum the team built in it's victory in Game 2.
"You're adding our leading scorer … one of the top five scorers in the League, so I think it can't do anything but help if he's healthy enough to play," coach Peter DeBoer said. "Players know their bodies better than doctors, coaches, anybody else. So it's not me seeing something [prior to making a decision]. It's him knowing what we need out of him, and if he feels his body is capable of giving us that, he'll go."
DeBoer wouldn't speculate who he would list as a healthy scratch if Kovalchuk is in the lineup, but all signs point to versatile defenseman Peter Harrold as the odd-man out. Harrold dressed as a seventh defenseman during practice Thursday while rookie Adam Larsson was skating alongside Anton Volchenkov.
"For me, if [Kovalchuk] is healthy to go, he's healthy to go," DeBoer said. "It's not healthy with an asterisk. We aren't going to limit him in ice time or anything. If he's in, it's full in."
It was reported by the (Newark) Star-Ledger that Kovalchuk has been suffering from a herniated disc in his back.
According to general manager Lou Lamoriello, Kovalchuk has been dealing with the injury since the middle of their quarterfinal-round series against the Florida Panthers.
In eight playoff games, Kovalchuk has three goals, six points and a minus-5 rating.
If Kovalchuk isn't in the lineup, these are the probable lines. If he does come back in, it likely would push Harrold out of the lineup, slide Steve Bernier to his previous role as right wing on the fourth line and shuffle the top three lines.
You get the right the whistles at the right times, you can leave him out there. He's a beast when it comes to being on the ice. I thought [Saturday] he was a big man. That first period, he did that lateral cut and it was like three bowling pins bounced off him. There's not too many guys that can do that.
— Capitals coach Barry Trotz on Alex Ovechkin, who enters February tied for the NHL lead in goals