NEW YORK - It was hardly a Willis Reed moment, but the New York Rangers and the early arriving Madison Square Garden crowd got a lift Sunday night when forward Sean Avery hopped onto the ice for the first time in a month.
Just hours after the New York Knicks, Reed's former team, lost for the 19th time in 27 games, Avery and the Rangers gave the arena a much-needed jolt when he came onto the ice for warmups before the team faced the Ottawa Senators.
The Rangers' main agitator and key spark plug returned to action after missing 11 games following wrist surgery. His return couldn't have come at a better time as New York was trying to break out of a funk in which it went 1-2-2 in its previous five and 4-5-2 since Avery last played.
He was back on a line with Chris Drury and Brendan Shanahan against Ottawa.
Avery had surgery on Nov. 29 to repair the left wrist that was giving him trouble back to last season's playoffs.
He fought Toronto's Darcy Tucker on Nov. 10, a bout first sparked during an altercation with the Maple Leafs forward during pre-game warmups, and then was hit 11 days later by a shot from Shanahan when the Rangers played at Tampa Bay.
Avery considered off-season surgery after the Rangers were eliminated by Buffalo in the second round of the playoffs in May, but decided against it.
This is the second time this season that Avery returned from an injury. When the catalyst was sidelined with a separated shoulder earlier this season, the Rangers went 4-5-1. New York is 9-4-1 with him in the lineup.
The Rangers went 17-6-6 last season after he was acquired from Los Angeles in February.
Once the crowd realized Avery was on the ice for warmups with his teammates, the cheers grew louder and were quickly joined by chants of "Avery! Avery!"
Avery took his first shift just over a minute into the game, and spent a chunk of it jawing and jostling with Senators forward Shean Donovan.
In 14 games this season, Avery posted two goals, seven assists and 30 penalty minutes. He replaced forward Petr Prucha, who was a healthy scratch. Prucha had played in New York's first 35 games this season.