NEWARK, N.J. -- Ilya Kovalchuk called practice 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 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; after a 3-0 win against the Philadelphia Flyers they remain six points out of eighth place with five games remaining.
"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. Kovalchuk stayed on for a lengthy extra skate with those players as well as defensemen Alexander Urbom and Anton Volchenkov.
"I didn't skate with the contact at all for three weeks and [Friday] we were doing 1-on-1s and 2-on-2s," Kovalchuk said. "I feel pretty good and we'll see how I respond [Friday night] and [Saturday] morning we'll decide."
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