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Gionta brothers to battle on the ice for first time

by Dan Rosen /
NEWARK, N.J. -- Devils captain Jamie Langenbrunner never doubted he was going to return to the lineup Thursday for the first time in nine games, but he still needed coach John MacLean's blessing. Stephen Gionta wasn't so sure if he would be in, but he was hoping MacLean would point in his direction Thursday.

He did, so Langenbrunner and Gionta will play for New Jersey against Montreal at Prudential Center (7 p.m. ET, RDS), and the Devils, winners of three of their last four games, hope to get a jump from both players for completely different reasons.

Thursday's game will mark the first time Gionta will square off against his brother, Canadiens captain Brian Gionta, in any organized hockey game. Brian is four years older and far more accomplished in the NHL, but Stephen, who was called up by the Devils on Nov. 4, has earned his spot in the lineup.

MacLean said there was nothing sentimental about his decision to play Stephen against his brother's team. Stephen kills penalties and has filled a bottom-six forward role by providing energy, so he's in for the 11th straight game since his call-up.

"At this level you can't think about (sentimentality), you have to think what's best for the team and that's what we think our best lineup is tonight," MacLean said.

Langenbrunner will play for the first time since he went head-first into the boards Nov. 10 against Buffalo and suffered a neck injury. He's been skating for much of his time off so his legs are in good shape and MacLean said he will be used in all situations as long as he can keep up, which Langenbrunner doesn't believe will be an issue.

"We'll wait and see how the game goes," said Langenbrunner, who averages 18:32 of ice time per game. "I felt better as the days on the ice accumulated, and obviously you can't simulate playing in the game and that's always the hardest thing for anybody coming back from an injury, getting back in that game feel. You know, I think just the way the guys are playing it's been good and hopefully I can add something to the lineup."

Stephen Gionta won't get a chance to see or talk to his brother before the game because the Habs chose not to come to Prudential Center on Thursday morning. Their parents, Sam and Penny, will make the trip from Rochester, N.Y. to be here for the game, but older brother Joe won't be with them because he has to work at his restaurant in Rochester.

Thursday's game will be Brian Gionta's second time back in New Jersey as an opponent. After seven seasons as a Devil he left for Montreal via free agency in the summer of 2009. He had an assist in his lone game here last season. He had to miss Montreal's first appearance in Newark because he was out with a broken foot.

"The only time that we've skated together competitively was in training camp here in Jersey, but there is a first time for everything," Stephen said. "When he was here I was hoping to get into a game with him, but now that he's moved on the next best thing is playing against him and hopefully it'll be a good one tonight."

Like Brian, Stephen Gionta played four seasons at Boston College. Stephen signed with the Devils' organization in April 2006. This is his first NHL chance after six seasons in the AHL.

With Langenbrunner returning, Alexander Vasyunov will be a healthy scratch for the Devils. Matthew Corrente will return to the Devils' blue line after missing two games with a shoulder sprain. Olivier Magnan will be scratched.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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