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Kovalchuk returns to lineup Saturday for Devils

by Mike G. Morreale /

NEWARK, N.J. -- New Jersey Devils right wing Ilya Kovalchuk informed the media during his pregame scrum that he isn't just 100 percent, but 105 percent.

As a result, Kovalchuk was removed from injured reserve and returned to the lineup Saturday when the Devils played the Florida Panthers at Prudential Center (FS-F, MSG, 1 p.m. ET).

"Like I said [Friday], I felt good, so Pete [DeBoer] told me to be ready for [Saturday]," Kovalchuk said. "I came in and saw my name on the board … so that means I'm in."

Kovalchuk replaced right wing Steve Sullivan, who will be listed as a healthy scratch. DeBoer wouldn't tip his hand as to which line combinations he would use and said he was still figuring it out.

Ilya Kovalchuk
Right Wing - NJD
GOALS: 10 | ASST: 17 | PTS: 27
SOG: 113 | +/-: -2
Kovalchuk, who missed the past 11 games with a right-shoulder injury, told reporters Friday after practice it was the best he's felt since the March 23 injury occurred against the Panthers at Prudential Center.

Kovalchuk said he wasn't really thinking about the shoulder and didn't expect any setbacks.

"I'm pretty sure I'll be good," he said. "It's never easy, but the guys, training staff and my family were important over those first two weeks. Now everything is better and everyone is smiling again."

Everyone, including coach DeBoer.

"We wanted him back as quickly as we could and it was at a point that he thought he could help us and we were comfortable he couldn't get any further damage," DeBoer said.

Friday, Kovalchuk skated with Andrei Loktionov, Krystofer Barch and Tom Kostopoulos and was involved in 1-on-1 battles later in the practice.

The Devils could certainly use Kovalchuk; they've been limited to two or fewer goals in seven of the past nine games, dropping in the Eastern Conference standings. In 32 games this season, Kovalchuk has 10 goals and 27 points, which ranks second on the team behind Patrik Elias. His last goal was scored March 13 in a 5-2 victory against the Flyers at Prudential Center.

"We've got to fight and we'll try our best because our fans deserve to see the best effort every day," Kovalchuk said.

The Devils snapped a 10-game winless streak (0-6-4) Thursday with a 3-0 victory against the Philadelphia Flyers, but remain eight points out of eighth place with five matches remaining. New Jersey will play the eighth-place New York Rangers twice more at Madison Square Garden, on Sunday and again on April 27.

"We'll take one game at a time," Kovalchuk said. "The Rangers won [Friday] night, but we've had good games against them and fans love to see those games. It's been almost a month [since he has played] so I watched a lot of hockey and skated on my own and don't want to do that anymore."


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