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Parise returns to practice

by Eric Marin / New Jersey Devils
Parise skated at Thursday's practice.

No matter how these final games of 2010-11 play out, the imminent return of Zach Parise will be one of the high points of the Devils’ roller coaster season. 

The Devils practiced Thursday and welcomed back their former 45-goal scorer, who has been out of action since October.

“He looks good,” Jacques Lemaire said. “He’s skating well. He just needs to play a few games there.”

Parise wore blue and skated on a line with David Steckel and Adam Mair during the hour-long, uptempo practice. He traveled with the team to Pittsburgh but will not play in Friday’s game against the Penguins.

“It was just fun coming for practice for once, finally,” Parise said. “It was good to get out there and get hit to reassure yourself that once you get hit, it’s not going to hurt anymore. It was good from that aspect and also to get hit and get that game shape and game conditioning back.”

Parise’s unlikely to play Saturday in Buffalo. The Devils return home to host the Islanders on Wednesday.

“A few more [practices] would be nice,” Parise said. “It’s definitely a lot different than going one-on-one with a coach or with a couple of coaches. When you get a little contact going, I think that’s when you really start to get into shape. As practice went on, I think my timing got a little better. You have to make decisions a lot quicker. I felt as the day went on, it got better, but I’m not playing tomorrow, I know that for sure.”

You can tell just the first practice with the guys there. On three-on-threes, I think he scored two goals, so he hasn’t lost his touch. - Jacques Lemaire on Zach Parise
Thursday's practice was Parise’s first skate with the team since he went down with a knee injury on Oct. 30. The Devils’ leading goal scorer in each of the last four seasons, Parise underwent arthroscopic surgery in November to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee and has missed 61 games.

Lemaire didn’t rule out a Wednesday return.

“No idea,” said Lemaire. “I think he’s the one that will decide.”

Though he skated with the fourth line in his first practice, Parise will see a bigger role than that when he does finally play again.

“I think he’ll do more than that,” Lemaire said. “You can tell just the first practice with the guys there. On three-on-threes, I think he scored two goals, so he hasn’t lost his touch.”

Parise had three goals and three assists in 12 games before suffering the first major injury of his career. He began skating on his own on March 3, and will not need any additional medical clearance to return to the lineup.

“It’s when I’m ready,” Parise said. “I guess it’s somewhat up to me; it’s somewhat up to management and probably ultimately, Jacques, too. I can go and tell him that I’m ready, but I guess he’s going to have to watch me practice and make that final decision if I’m ready to go or not.”

He continued, “It’s in my hands to get myself ready to play.”

Parise would have practiced Wednesday, but the team was given the day off.

“I was planning on it. I was probably the only one that was disappointed when practice was canceled,” he joked.

The Devils have dropped three of four and sit nine points behind eighth-place Buffalo with nine games remaining. Still, Parise has been impressed by his teammates’ second-half turnaround, which included a 23-3-2 run.

“It’s been awesome,” he said. “It really has been great. They’ve been playing well and I think it’s awesome to see the fans really jumping in. They’ve been great, we’ve been getting a lot of support. I feel like they’ve really become part of this run, too.”

No team has come back from a nine-point deficit with nine to go, but mathematically, the Devils are still alive.

“We’ve got a chance, that’s all we ask for is a chance to get in, and we’ve got it now,” he said. “We’ll just see where we can go.”

Playoff push or not, Parise hasn’t felt pressured to rush his recovery.

“No, not at all,” he said. “I think from my own standpoint, I want to come back and try and help these guys win. At the same point, it’s the same that it’s always been with Lou [Lamoriello], he wants to make sure I’m ready and healthy before anything. That’s the most important thing right now. Whether it’s one game from now, two games from now, it has to be when I’m ready to go.”

At some point, Parise expects to get a crash course on the Devils’ current system. He noted that some of the positioning has changed from last year’s system under Lemaire.

“I’m sure we’ll sit down with one of the coaches to give me just a quick little refresh of what exactly we’re doing,” he said. “You can see stuff from up top, but you have to know as a player where and when you’re supposed to be in certain spots.”

Above all, he sounded eager to get back, regardless of the number of games left.

“When you’re healthy, you want to play,” he said. “There’s not going to be too many guys who will say, ‘Hey, I’m healthy but we’re not going to make it; I’m not going to play.’ If I’m healthy and I can play, I want to play."

And he’s not ruling out the postseason just yet.

“It’s a little added incentive, I guess, when you’re in the situation we’re in, and you have a little bit of a chance,” he said.

Lemaire said the team’s mood is “fine,” despite the uphill battle they now face to make the playoffs.

“The guys, they know our position. Right now, we just want to play the best we can. We’ve got big games; it’s good for us. Big games, we’ll see how they play. They’re all big games, but the thing is, all these teams are in the playoffs. Let’s say, they’re a touch better than the other guys, the other teams we played that are not in the playoffs. They’re a touch better.”

- Martin Brodeur is expected to get his 13th straight start on Friday.

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