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.
I'm very excited about what happened today. We've worked on this deal with Toronto for a month, or over a month. It got a little bit of legs on draft day, but it really heated up last night, and we were able to complete the deal today.
— Penguins GM Jim Rutherford on Phil Kessel, who he acquired from the Maple Leafs in a trade on Wednesday