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With the Devils playoff hopes crashed, Zach Parise may be close to returning

Mar 23, 2011, 12:36 PM EST

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After the Devils 4-1 loss to Boston last night, their shot at making the playoffs after an incredible run in the second half of the year was essentially ruined. After all with just nine games left to play and nine points back of the eighth spot in the standings, reality has settled in in New Jersey. Devils fans will wonder what could’ve been for a lot of reasons and one of them would be, “What if Zach Parise was healthy this year?”

Turns out, the Devils might get an idea of how things could’ve been before the season wraps up. Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record tells us about how Zach Parise’s skating regiment of late might lead us to seeing him on the ice before the season is over.

Parise has been skating on his own for nearly three weeks as he continues to recover from Nov. 2 surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee. When asked if Parise would practice with the team today or Thursday, Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello replied, “Who knows?” The Devils later decided to take today off.

So if Parise were to practice with the team this week, it would have to be Thursday. It seems unlikely he’d be ready to play in the team’s next game Friday night in Pittsburgh. He has not played since Oct. 30 in Los Angeles.

You have to love Lou Lamoriello because he never tips his hand. Ever.

That said, with less than ten games to go and the chances of making the playoffs being slimmer than they have been in a couple of months, getting Parise out on the ice to play to wrap up the season makes for a nice teasing treat for the fans. Parise is one of the top talents in the league and while his season started off slowly and ended in an injury nightmare.

Missing the playoffs will be a blow to the Devils for sure as hopes were sky high heading into this season, but giving fans a glimpse of hope heading into the offseason and onto next year would make for a great rallying point for the fans. Of course, heading into the offseason not knowing if Jacques Lemaire will be returning and with Martin Brodeur being another year older makes the future uncertain.

There’s also the fact of Parise being a restricted free agent at the end of the season to consider here as well. The Devils would ideally like to see where Parise’s at in game action before sitting down at the negotiating table to decide on a long term deal. After all, giving a guy coming off a brutal knee injury a long, cap-straining contract doesn’t sound appealing to most anyone.

Giving Parise the chance to show he’s over it and able to play the way he used to, albeit in an abbreviated schedule, could be important for both sides in this situation.

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