BROSSARD - It looks like the Canadiens could be welcoming Alexei Emelin back into the lineup on Thursday night.
The 30-year-old Russian defenseman took part in the morning skate ahead of Game 5 and was featured alongside Nathan Beaulieu on the back end.
Emelin hasn't seen game action since April 5 when he suffered a lower-body injury in a tilt against the Buffalo Sabres in Western New York.
While the six-year NHL veteran said he was "feeling good" following the on-ice session and declared himself "ready to play," a decision on his playing status will come shortly after the pre-game warmup.
"He's a good, experienced player. We'd like to have him in our lineup. When I spoke to him after practice, he said he felt good. I told him that he'd take part in the pre-game warmup and then we'll make a decision after that," said head coach Claude Julien. "We're going to give him a chance to recover during the day, and then we'll see if he's still feeling as good as he was this morning."
Video: Claude Julien's press conference
It goes without saying that Emelin has been chomping at the bit to suit up and chip in. The physical nature of the series so far suits him just fine.
"It's my kind of hockey. I like it," said Emelin, who threw a team-leading 241 hits during the regular season, which ranked him ninth in the League in that department. "I've had time for recovery. We didn't force it. We did the normal rehab. I'm 100 percent."
Video: Alexei Emelin on his possible return to the lineup
He'll have to be against a New York Rangers squad that has dished out a postseason-leading 203 hits through four games. For their part, the Canadiens rank fourth with 164 hits to date.
With that in mind, Emelin's teammates are eager to welcome him back into the fold with the series tied at two games apiece.
"He means a lot to this team because he's very, very hard to play against. I know what it's like to play against guys like him. It can creep into your mind sometimes when you're skating with the puck," said captain Max Pacioretty, who has thrown his weight around to the tune of nine hits during the series. "He doesn't get away from his game ever, no matter what the series says or who we're playing against, and that's what makes him special."
Like Pacioretty, Beaulieu insists the way Emelin goes about his business can have a profound effect on the opposition.
"It's a big difference. Guys are definitely looking over their shoulder twice when he's on the ice. He brings that huge physical element to the game. He's a Russian tank. He's called that for a reason," stressed Beaulieu. "He's so big, so strong and so physical that he's a real pain to play against. He makes our identity that much stronger."
Video: Nathan Beaulieu on Alexei Emelin
And, he represents another key weapon in the Canadiens' arsenal that can potentially make life a lot more difficult for the Rangers in their quest to wreak havoc around goaltender Carey Price.
"This series has been a lot more physical than we expected. Knowing Emmy, it fits perfectly right into his game," added Beaulieu. "That's going to be a big boost, for sure."