It’s been a long four months for the New Jersey Devils (36-36-5) and left-winger Zach Parise.
Parise missed 64 games after tearing his meniscus during a game October 30 against the Los Angeles Kings. In that time, his team found themselves everywhere from last place to six points out of a playoff spot.
Now, the team and player who went through so much will finally be reunited. Parise returns to the lineup tonight as the Devils face the Montreal Canadiens at the Prudential Center.
Parise’s return comes as the Devils cling to playoff life. Entering tonight’s game, they sit 10 points behind the seventh place Buffalo Sabres and the eighth place New York Rangers. If either of those teams gains a point, New Jersey will be mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. The left-winger wanted to return this season, no matter where the Devils sat in the standings.
“I wanted to and we were always planning on it regardless of how the season turned out, regardless of if we were making it or not,” he told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record. “We were always doing the rehab and everything with the intention of playing at the end of the year. Nothing changed. That was the game plan from the start.”
Martin Brodeur understood how special the night would be for Parise.
“It’s going to be fun,” Brodeur told Gulitti. “For him, you have to feel for him from what he’s been through with his rehab. I went through it two years back and I know how hard it is to be by yourself for a long period of time and not seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. And finally now tonight is going to be a night for him to be able to get on the ice and play and be part of a team and have that atmosphere of the team. And like I told him before, ‘The high school girls will be happy to see him back.'”
New Jersey will look to continue its late season winning streak. They’ve won two straight games, outscoring opponents, 7-4, during that stretch. The wins kept the team afloat, but will do little to assure it won’t miss the playoffs this season. But New Jersey could deal a crushing blow to the Canadiens playoff hopes.
Montreal enters tonight’s game sixth in the Eastern Conference, just two points ahead of both the Rangers and Devils.
Once pressing the Boston Bruins for the division lead, the Canadiens have lost four of their last five. Carey Price has underwhelmed, going 1-5-0 with a 3.86 goals-against average in his last six starts.
New Jersey will look to extend their dominance over the Habs. They’ve won nine of their last 11 games, but have lost their last two at home against Montreal. Since March 29, 1994, Montreal is just 4-23-1 with four ties against the Devils on the road.
Parise, who plans on playing the remaining five games, doesn’t believe the Devils are out yet.
“We are still alive,” Parise told Gulitti. “We still have a chance. I guess we’re not done yet, so we’ll see whether we can win our last five.”