The Columbus Blue Jackets won't confirm that forward Marian Gaborik will be back in the lineup Thursday night when they resume play against the New Jersey Devils, but he's preparing as if he will take the ice.
Right Wing - CBJ
GOALS: 5 | ASST: 7 | PTS: 12
SOG: 44 | +/-: 2
Gaborik has missed the past 22 games after breaking his collarbone on Dec. 21. But he was medically cleared for contact last week, has been practicing with the team since Feb. 19 and says he feels better with each passing day.
"Obviously games are totally different than practice, and it's hard to mimic a lot of things in practice," Gaborik told the Blue Jackets website. "But I feel good enough to jump back in and have a good practice tomorrow, then we'll go from there."
Coach Todd Richards isn't quite sure how Gaborik will fit into the lineup.
"Lines were similar, but there are still a couple of guys out there who could be able to go in," Richards said after practice Tuesday. "I have an idea [of where Gaborik could play], but I like the way we were playing prior to him (returning). We played well in Anaheim, we were playing well in L.A. ... I was happy with the way the group was playing."
The Blue Jackets play their final 24 games in a 48-day stretch, so adding a player of Gaborik's caliber is as good as acquiring a significant piece at the NHL Trade Deadline.
"I worked hard over the [Olympic break] to get back, and hopefully it's not going to take me too long to get into game shape," Gaborik said. "I feel pretty good out there; I'm looking forward to this...it's been a while. It's going to be a tough stretch, but every team is in the same situation.
"We're right on the bubble, and we want to make sure we have a good start and even better finish. This group has done a lot since the start of the year, we're playing more consistent and hopefully it graduates to us playing even better."