SUNRISE - Each time the Carolina Hurricanes hit the ice for practice is a step closer to a return to game action for Petr Mrazek.
For the second consecutive day, Mrazek was actively using his stick while seeing shots in practice drills, one of the final critical progress markers in his return from injury.
"It's a great feeling, but I'm not quite there yet," Mrazek said on Sunday after practice in Sunrise. "I want to be careful with it, but if things go well, I can be back really soon."
Whenever that magical date might be, "really soon" is impressive given the timeline and initial fears. Let's rewind. Mrazek suffered a right thumb injury on Jan. 30, and on Feb. 3, he underwent surgery in Vail, Colorado. It was only a little more than a week after the injury that Mrazek first appeared on the ice, as he completed a light workout in Dallas. Since then, he's been slowly integrating more blocker and stick work into his practices.
"Being on the ice, you see the process every single day. You feel better and better," he said. "Small progress. I'm looking forward to being back."
Mrazek won't be back in the net on Monday - Alex Nedeljkovic is the likely starter for the Canes' second of two games against the Florida Panthers - or Tuesday or probably even Thursday when the team returns home and is able to host around 2,900 fans at PNC Arena.
Progress is progress, though, and it means that his return will be sooner rather than later.
"I'm taking it day-by-day," he said. "When it feels like it's ready, I'll be good to go."
Prior to the injury, Mrazek was red hot to begin the season. He recorded two shutouts in his first three games and sported a dazzling 0.99 goals-against average and .955 save percentage. It was just three games and 2:47 of another, sure, but it was an encouraging start to his third season with the Canes, none the less.
With James Reimer and Nedeljkovic manning the crease in Mrazek's absence, the Canes have continued to roll. The team sits at 13-6-1 with 27 points through 20 games. Adding back to the mix a healthy netminder who was playing at the top of his game should fortify an already stout lineup.
"I'm working on things I worked on in training camp," Mrazek said. "I believe in myself that I can pick up where I left off."