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Kovalchuk returns to Devils' lineup vs. Rangers after 1-game benching by MacLean

NEW YORK, N.Y. - Ilya Kovalchuk rejoined the New Jersey Devils' lineup on Sunday, one night after he was benched by coach John MacLean for an undisclosed reason.

The US$100 million forward, in the first year of a 15-year deal with the Devils, met with the media before New Jersey faced the New York Rangers. Kovalchuk provided no information for why he was forced to sit out Saturday's home game against Buffalo.

Kovalchuk said it was MacLean's decision to bench him, and the reason behind it would stay between him and the coach.

"I'm just a player and I'm just going to show up tonight and play," Kovalchuk said. "I want to be on the ice. That's the bottom line. I'm going to be tonight. I'm excited to be back and be with the team again."

The Devils were beaten 6-1 by the Sabres and dropped to 2-5-1.

Kovalchuk, who didn't speak to reporters after that loss, said he was told after Saturday's morning skate that he wouldn't play against Buffalo.

"It was tough because I love the game so much," Kovalchuk said. "That's probably the worst when you watch your team, especially losing."

Kovalchuk said this wasn't the first time he was held out of a game as a healthy scratch.

"A long time ago, but it happened before. It wasn't new for me," he said.

For the second straight day, MacLean refused to say what led to the benching. He reiterated that he is standing by his decision to hold out the dynamic scorer, even though the team has struggled in the coach's rookie season.

Whatever the problem was, MacLean said it's totally resolved between him and Kovalchuk. Neither MacLean nor Kovalchuk would say if the star player missed a team meeting.

"The issue is over with," MacLean said. "It's an internal matter. We both know, and today we're getting ready for the Rangers game.

"He'll be playing and hopefully playing a lot and burying some of the great opportunities he's been getting. He'll be put in a role to be used to the best of his ability."

New Jersey sent forward Alexander Vasyunov back to Albany of the AHL. Vasyunov was recalled from Albany on Saturday.

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