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Parise pushing return back to Saturday

by Mike G. Morreale
NEWARK, N.J. -- Zach Parise's return to the New Jersey Devils lineup will have to wait.
Following New Jersey's optional skate Wednesday morning here at Prudential Center, Parise said he would sit out the club's next two home games against the New York Islanders tonight and Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia Flyers on Friday. Parise said he's hoping to give it a go Saturday at home against the Montreal Canadiens.
"I made the decision (Tuesday)," Parise said. "I thought the practice went well. Today was my fourth practice with the team but I just didn't feel comfortable hopping into a game at this time. Not that five practices will make much of a difference, but I thought one or two more would be safer."
Why Saturday?
"Well, no particular reason … I'll practice (Thursday) in the morning and again on Friday and then I think I'll be ready to go on Saturday," he said.
Devils coach Jacques Lemaire certainly stands by the decision.
"I asked him if he was ready to play and he said, 'Not yet,' " Lemaire said. "Is it coming? Yes. He has to feel good and comfortable and feel that he can play. He's got to feel good at practice, confident. He looks fine and fit. He's been away for so long and he said he feels good after being back a week. Getting back to play will certainly give him confidence. It's always tough after a long injury. You always wish it would be quicker, but you have to take the time."
Devils center Travis Zajac, who had been skating with Parise the last few practices, just wants to see his usual linemate regain his strength.
"I've upped my game the last two practices to try and get him ready for today, but no," Zajac said with a grin. "Whenever he's feeling 100 percent, he'll be in. I'd love to see him in tonight and get a chance to play with him, but at the same time he's got to worry about himself and make sure he's ready to go. I know he's itching to go and it's probably killing him to not be in tonight, but I'm sure over the next week or so, he'll be back in."
Parise has missed the last 63 games after aggravating a right knee injury in an Oct. 30 loss to the Los Angeles Kings when he got tangled up with the Kings' Kyle Clifford in the neutral zone and fell awkwardly. Dr. Anthony Miniaci of the Cleveland Clinic performed arthroscopic surgery on Parise to repair a torn meniscus on Nov. 2. He received medical clearance to start skating on his own on March 2 and did that for three weeks before participating in his first full practice with the team on March 24.
He had 3 goals and 6 points in 12 games before suffering the injury.
"Every practice it has been better," Parise said. "My timing and things are getting better and with a few more (practices), I'll be ready. I think the timing is coming. My knee doesn't hurt and I feel like that it is all healed, but I want to get as sharp as I can before hopping into a game and that's why we decided (Wednesday) wasn't a good night."
The Devils started the season 10-29-2 before embarking on a 23-2-2 run that had them right back in the playoff hunt. A 1-4-1 stretch over their last six games has them on the verge of elimination.

When asked if he would be playing if the Devils were close to clinching a playoff spot, Parise shrugged.

"I know I'm not going to feel great, and with four or five games left, it's tough to get everything in line. But just for my own peace of mind, it'll be good."
-- Zach Parise

"At the end of the day, if we were going to the playoffs, I definitely would be trying … not that I'm right now, though," he said. "My biggest concern is my health. You want to play, especially going into the playoffs because you want to play even more.
"In a way, I'm disappointed I can't go, but I also know it wouldn't be a good idea."
Once he does return to the lineup, Parise is just looking forward to getting back into game shape before heading into the summer.
"I just want to feel good about my game, feel good about playing," he said. "I know I'm not going to feel great, and with four or five games left, it's tough to get everything in line. But just for my own peace of mind, it'll be good."
Lemaire's message to his team over the final seven games of the regular-season and while they await the return of Parise is simple -- keep playing hard.
"Play the best they can," Lemaire said. "The start like we had in Buffalo (a 2-0 loss on March 26) is not acceptable. They have to finish the job by playing well."
Additionally, Parise also revealed he will not play for the U.S. and coach Scott Gordon in the IIHF World Championships, April 29 through May 15, in Slovakia. He admitted it is both contract and injury-related.
"We decided that wouldn't be a good idea right now," he said. "A lot of it has to do with the injury and my contract (which expires at the end of the season)."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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