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Brodeur returns to Devils practice @NHL

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) - New Jersey Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur returned to practice Thursday for the first time since spraining his knee Feb. 6, but he would not set a timetable for when he might return to games.

"I felt pretty good out there," Brodeur said after participating in most of the 60-minute skate. "I did whatever I wanted to do out there. But I'm not ready at all."

The 38-year-old All-Star hurt the knee in a 4-1 win in Montreal, and an MRI exam revealed a sprained medical collateral ligament. Doctors said that Brodeur would be out indefinitely and he was subsequently placed on injured reserve.

He was back on the ice Thursday for about 15 minutes during end-to-end drills, then stood at center ice and watched Johan Hedberg take the net during speciality drills.

Brodeur then returned to the crease for more scrimmaging, showing good lateral movement and getting to his knees and back up rather freely. He finished by pushing hard in skating drills.

"I will let them know when I'm ready to go. It's all about being comfortable and being able to play the way you want to play," Broderu said. "I hate to be selfish, but I can't think about reinjuring myself. If I go out there too early and reinjure myself, what good does that do?"

Brodeur was asked about the pain level and whether he'd ever played through such an injury.

"I've played with worse," Brodeur said. "But that was at a different age, that's for sure."

Hedberg has been brilliant of late, winning four straight games without surrendering more than two goals in any of the. He's evened his record at 10-10-2 in the process.

The veteran Hedberg knows that he's just keeping the crease warm until Brodeur returns. He also was forced into action earlier this season, when Brodeur missed eight straight games and 10 of 13 due to a bruised elbow.

"Obviously, he's a big part of this team and has been for a very long time," Hedberg said. "We're talking about the best goaltender to ever play this game. If he's ready to come back, then he's ready and he'll play. When they tell me to play, I'll play.

"I like the feeling of the way I'm playing now," Hedberg said. "I'm playing patient and keeping to my game. I'm not trying to do too much. The way we're playing right now has given me more of a comfort zone and allows me to play more of an aggressive game."

The Devils are the hottest team in the NHL, winning five straight and 13 of 16, posting a 13-1-2 record over that stretch to climb back into the playoff race. They trail Carolina by 12 points for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

"Things are a lot more enjoyable right now than they were," Brodeur said. "We have great focus and great attitude. We got our game back and we just have to keep it going. We can't get too excited right now, because we're still 12 points out. But we're having fun."

Patrik Elias was glad to see Brodeur back on the ice Thursday.

"It's good to see him doing well and looking healthy," Elias said. "He's always a part of us. If we don't see him out there, we know things are not the same."

NOTES: Devils GM Lou Lamoriello announced three moves before practice. Recently reacquired D Jay Leach was optioned to Albany of the AHL and C Jacob Josefson recalled from Albany. C Tim Sestito was placed on waivers, although he practiced with the club Thursday. "I'm staying here for the time being," Sestito said. "I don't know if I'm surprised by this, but I haven't exactly been lighting it up here either." Sestito has no goals and two assists in 36 games this season. If he passes through league waivers, he can be optioned to Albany or remain with the Devils.

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