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Devils' Martin to return Wednesday against Pens

by Dan Rosen
NEWARK, N.J. -- Devils defenseman Paul Martin can't remember the last time he was this excited to play a hockey game.

"Oh, it's been a while," Martin, who will return to the lineup Wednesday for the first time since Oct. 24, told "You take it for granted sometimes how much fun you have playing the game."

Martin has missed the last 59 games after suffering a non-displaced fracture of his left forearm when he was struck a slap shot by Penguin right wing Bill Guerin. It was initially thought Martin wouldn't need surgery and he'd only be out for six weeks, but the injury didn't heal properly so he had to go onto the operating table Dec. 22.

He was selected to play for Team USA at the Olympics, but Martin had to withdraw because he wasn't healed yet. He's been skating since before the Olympics, but his only full practice with the team was this past Sunday. Martin had been skating on his own and during optional practices and morning skates.

Martin said Tuesday that he was 50-50 to play Wednesday against the Penguins, but only because he wanted to see how he reacted during the morning skate.

"It felt good (Tuesday) taking shots and battling in front of the net, just small things that had been bothering me," Martin said. "It was the best it had been so far."

"It felt good (Tuesday) taking shots and battling in front of the net, just small things that had been bothering me. It was the best it had been so far."
-- Paul Martin

After taking the full skate with the team, Martin spoke briefly on the ice with coach Jacques Lemaire and told him he was able to play. Lemaire said the decision was all Martin's.

"That's how it works," Lemaire said. "He's just got to come and say, 'I'm playing,' and he plays."

Lemaire, though, doesn't expect to use Martin for Thursday's game in Toronto.

"Probably I won't play him tomorrow except if he comes out and plays really well," Lemaire said. "Then I would think about it. Games are hard. It's easy to be prepared for one game, but two games, you're playing back-to-back, he's going to have a huge drop. I can tell you that. A huge drop."

Martin said his ice time will depend on how he feels. He's used to playing upwards of 25 minutes a game.

"I don't think they're going to be throwing me right into the fire," Martin said. "I think it'll be gradual depending on how I feel and how I play. I log those type of minutes, but it's been a long time. Hopefully I get into a rhythm where it comes back to me naturally."

The hold up for Martin over the last couple weeks wasn't necessarily his forearm, but instead the strength and range of motion in his left wrist. He worked daily with Gary Flink, a physical therapist in Hackensack, N.J. who also worked with Martin Brodeur when he was out last season with a torn biceps tendon.

Not until recently did Martin feel comfortable doing battle drills or leaning his body into a slap shot.

"I still don't have the power on it, but motion-wise it's not as painful or intense," Martin said of his shot. "It still needs to get stronger so I still have my limitations, but to be able to do what I do when I play, tonight I'll be able to get away with it, I hope."

The Devils certainly are thrilled to have him back. Wednesday's game marks the first time all season they'll have a completely healthy lineup.

"You're getting back a top-two defenseman on any team, or a No. 1 on most of the teams," Brodeur said. "We've got to be excited about that."

"Look at the crew out there," Lemaire said. "It looks like an army."

Lemaire is looking for Martin to bring his typical offense from the back end.

"He's a great skater and he plays a game where he controls the puck, makes good passes," Lemaire said. "Hopefully he can bring some offense and help the power play."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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