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Devils' Parise close to return after knee surgery

New Jersey Devils left wing Zach Parise practiced again Tuesday without pain in his right knee, five months after surgery.

He had a rigorous 90-minute workout and skated freely with the Devils' third line. He's practiced just three times since he was cleared to skate last month. He's not sure when he'll return to the ice after sitting out since Nov. 2 when he had surgery for a torn meniscus.

"I can't say one way or the other," Parise said. "It was nice to get another practice under my belt and it felt good to be out there."

Coach Jacques Lemaire said he liked the way Parise looked in practice.

"He's getting better and better," Lemaire said. "He looks fine and fit. He's been away for so long and he said he feels good after being back a week. Getting back to play will certainly give him confidence. It's always tough after a long injury."

Parise had three goals and three assists in 12 games before the injury on Oct. 30 against the Los Angeles Kings.

"I am adjusting to the pace better," Parise said. "I want to not worry about my knee and my timing. I want the injury to be the last thing on my mind. I don't want the knee to be in the way."

Parise said he's not thinking about his pending free agency as the season winds down.

"The contract is the least of my worries," he said. "I hope they're thinking of bringing me back. I'm not worried about long-term effects. It's all about my psyche and wanting to play again."

Parise said he hoped to hear about the team's decision on his playing status before the Devils host the New York Islanders on Wednesday night.

"I would like to know today, so this way I'm not sitting around wondering," Parise said. "It's been three months and I knew it would be three months. I knew it would take a long time to heal, but I didn't think it would be this long."

Ilya Kovalchuk is expected back after missing Monday's practice with a bruised right foot and ankle. He took two shots to the feet in Saturday's 2-0 loss to Buffalo.

"I'm pretty sure I'm going to play," Kovalchuk said. "I'm not even worried about it. I usually heal pretty quickly. Lucky for me there were no fractures."

The Devils are just about eliminated from the Eastern Conference race, falling 12 points behind Buffalo with seven games to play. Any combination of three Buffalo points or New Jersey lost points would knock the Devils from the playoffs for the first time since 1995-96.

The Devils went 10-29-2, then improved to 23-2-2 before losing five of their last six games.

"We're going to push until the last second of the last game," Kovalchuk said. "We have a lot of pride and have shown a lot of character to come back the way we did. We're going to push right until the end."