(Photo credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports)
The New Jersey Devils team that takes the ice against the New York Rangers Saturday night will hardly look like the one that lined up against the Rangers in Game 7 of an Eastern Conference first-round series on May 1.
But they might finally look a little bit closer to whole.
Star center Jack Hughes could return to the Devils Saturday night, when New Jersey hosts the Rangers in the first game this season between the longtime rivals in Newark, N.J.
Both teams enter the rematch off wins over Metropolitan Division foes. The visiting Devils snapped a three-game losing streak Thursday night with a 5-2 win over the host Pittsburgh Penguins. The Rangers have been off since Sunday, when they continued surging with a 4-3 shootout win over the visiting Columbus Blue Jackets.
The Devils ended their skid Thursday despite missing a trio of key players in Hughes, center Nico Hischier and right winger Timo Meier. Hischier (upper body) is expected to be sidelined for a ninth straight game Saturday while Meier (lower body) will likely sit out with an injury suffered in Tuesday's 6-3 loss to the Winnipeg Jets.
But Hughes, who scored 43 goals and set a single-season franchise record with 99 points last year, practiced with the Devils on Friday for the first time since he suffered an upper-body injury against the St. Louis Blues on Nov. 3. Counting that game, a 4-1 loss, New Jersey is 2-4-0 without Hughes after opening the season 6-2-1.
Head coach Lindy Ruff said Hughes, whose 20 points through the first nine games led the NHL, will be a game-time decision Saturday.
"We'll get him a skate tomorrow and see how we handled today," Ruff said following practice Friday. "I mean, today wasn't very much of a day, just a little bit of the flow. We'll get him into the grind and get through tomorrow and see where he's at."
The Rangers are also hoping to welcome back at least two familiar faces as they look to continue a red-hot start under coach Peter Laviolette, who was hired June 13, a little more than a month after Gerard Gallant was fired following the seven-game loss to the Devils in which New York squandered a 2-0 series lead.
At 11-2-1, the Rangers lead the Metropolitan Division by five points over the Washington Capitals and have the fourth-most points in the NHL behind only the defending Stanley Cup champion Vegas Golden Knights as well as the Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks.
The Rangers extended their winning streak despite the continued absence of center Filip Chytil (upper body), defenseman Adam Fox (lower body) and goalie Igor Shesterkin (undisclosed), all of whom have missed the last four games. New York also lost defenseman Ryan Lindgren after he was boarded in the third period by Sean Kuraly.
Lindgren and Shesterkin each practiced Wednesday and will be game-time decisions Saturday.
"He plays the game hard and it's really nice to see him not have it go down different roads," Laviolette said of Lindgren following Wednesday's practice.
--Field Level Media