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DeBoer: Brodeur could back up Hedberg on Tuesday

by Eric Marin / New Jersey Devils

Devils coach Peter DeBoer is happy to have Martin Brodeur practicing with the team again, but he's taking a patient approach to getting him back in the lineup.

Johan Hedberg will start Tuesday's game against the Rangers. Brodeur, who returned to practice on Monday after missing the last 11 games, could back up.

"If he's healthy enough to go in if we needed him, yes," DeBoer said. "But I'm not going to rush or force him into that; that's not necessary."

The Devils (13-10-6) have dropped two in a row (0-1-1) since winning three of four. The Rangers sat in 10th place heading into Monday's home meeting with Carolina.

"They're all big," DeBoer said of the upcoming matchup between Hudson River rivals. "We talked this morning: for me there's two teams at the top of each conference, one or two at the bottom, then there's everybody else. It's going to be who can separate themselves from the pack over the last 19 games. Our mindset is Rangers or whoever we're playing, we have to start picking up points on a nightly basis."

Past the halfway mark of the shortened season, both of last year's Eastern Conference finalists are looking to strengthen their positions within the top eight.

"You're going to get desperate teams every single night now," DeBoer said. "There's no easy nights. This is the playoff push. It's going to be a full sprint to the finish here for 19 games. We have to be ready to go."

• DeBoer said sending Stefan Matteau back to his junior team in Blainville-Boisbriand (QMJHL) was the right decision for the Devils' 2012 first-round pick.

"He got great experience, learned a lot," DeBoer said. "He's got a big upside and a bright future. I think the League this time of year goes to another level. It's tough for young guys their first time around to find that. I think it was the right move."

Matteau posted a goal and two assists in 17 games and is eligible to return after the QMJHL playoffs.

• Andrei Loktionov skated on his own Monday, but remains day-to-day.

• Henrik Tallinder and Dainius Zubrus are "inching closer to a return, Tally closer than Zubrus," DeBoer said.

• Monday's forward lines:

Ponikarovsky - Henrique - Kovalchuk

Pesonen - Elias - Clarkson

Carter - Zajac - Bernier

Barch - Gionta - Kostopoulos

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