The New Jersey Devils are no longer in the hunt for a playoff berth, but left wing Zach Parise is prepared to use a few of the remaining games of the season as a tune-up for better days ahead.
Parise, who has missed the last 63 contests with a right knee injury, informed the local media on Tuesday after practice that he'll return to the Prudential Center ice in one of the next three games on the schedule -- against the Islanders on Wednesday, Flyers on Friday or Canadiens on Saturday. The Devils' public relations department confirmed the decision.
"In all honesty, I can't tell you one way or the other," Parise said following Tuesday's practice. "I guess we'll have to talk (with GM Lou Lamoriello). (Tuesday) was OK. It was definitely nice to get another practice in and things like that, but I felt good out there. Again, the pace I think I'm adjusting a little better to it. We'll see."
Parise, who suffered his injury in an Oct. 30 loss to the Los Angeles Kings after getting tangled up with the Kings' Kyle Clifford in the neutral zone and falling awkwardly, has 3 goals and 6 points in 12 games this season.
"I understand that the pace is going to be tough at the start, but I want the injury to be the last thing on my mind," Parise said. "I think you're pretty vulnerable when you're concerned with things like that, so I don't want that to be the worry."
The Devils were 3-9-1 and in last place in the Eastern Conference at the time of Parise's injury. The Devils are currently on a 1-4-1 skid that has dropped them to 12th in the conference with 34 wins and 73 points with seven games remaining.
The Devils will have to win six of their remaining games in order to hit the 40-win mark for the 14th straight season. The last time the Devils finished a season with fewer than 40 victories, when they went 37-33-12 in 1995-96, the club also failed to make the playoffs.
Dr. Anthony Miniaci of the Cleveland Clinic performed arthroscopic surgery on Parise to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee 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.
Parise, who is in his sixth season, was last season named the Devils' MVP as voted by teammates for the second year in a row after posting 38 goals and 82 points. He became the first player in team history to record four straight 30-goal seasons, as well as back-to-back 80-point campaigns. It remains to be seen whether coach Jacques Lemaire will have Parise on a line with usual center Travis Zajac once he returns.
For the last two days, however, Parise has practiced alongside Zajac and rookie Nick Palmieri. Lemaire had installed Ilya Kovalchuk at left wing with Zajac and Palmieri in Parise's absence.
Zajac is encouraged by what he's seen in Parise the last two days.
"He battles hard and he was blocking shots," Zajac told Rich Chere of The Star-Ledger. "He looks good. It's amazing how hard he still competes in practice. He's always been like that, always going after rebounds and he's still one of the hardest-working players."