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New Jersey injured forward Ilya Kovalchuk skates with Devils; return date unclear

NEWARK, N.J. - Offensive catalyst Ilya Kovalchuk skated with the Devils for the first time since injuring his right shoulder more than two weeks ago and hopes to return soon to the struggling New Jersey lineup.

Kovalchuk would not set a timetable for his return, but coach Peter DeBoer said the Russian star probably will play before he is fully recovered.

The Devils are winless in seven games (0-3-4) since Kovalchuk was hurt crashing into the end boards against the Florida Panthers March 23. The skid has dropped them out of playoff position in the Eastern Conference with nine games left.

The defending conference champions have two home games this week, facing the Boston Bruins Wednesday and the Ottawa Senators Friday.

"Condition-wise, I feel good," Kovalchuk told reporters in the locker room. "That was never a problem. I just want to make sure I'm 100 per cent when there is contact, and I can shoot one-timers and take the hard wrist shots. It's definitely going to take a few more days."

Kovalchuk, who has never had a major injury in his career, did not engage in contact during the practice.

"I'd take him at less than 100 per cent," DeBoer said. "He has work to do before he's an option. We're not going to put his safety in jeopardy, but we're not going to wait until he's 100 per cent to get him back in. That's not realistic."

Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur said Kovalchuk's presence at practice was good to see.

"We'd love to get him back," Brodeur said. "His body will tell him when he's ready to come back. He's a guy who takes a lot of ice time."

Besides skating on the top line, Kovalchuk plays on the power play, kills penalties and is usually the first player to take the ice when the Devils are involved in a shootout.

"It's not about one guy," Kovalchuk said. "We showed that the last two years. (Center) Travis (Zajac) was hurt all year last year. (Former captain) Zach (Parise) was hurt the year before that. We know how to react. It's unfortunate we haven't gotten a win, but I think we are very close."

Kovalchuk said his daughter, Karolina, has been watching games with him while he recuperates and has offered insight.

"'Hey, I think they miss you," he recalled her saying. "'You have to get back.'"

Kovalchuk has 10 goals and 27 points in 32 games.

"We have to find a way to win with the people we've got in the dressing room, and the people I have access to," DeBoer said. "We should be able to win with the way we played and some of the things we've done. We should be winning games.

"We have to find a way to put points in the bank."

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