BROSSARD, Que.—Enter Alexei Emelin.
The 30-year-old Russian defenceman, who was sidelined with a lower-body injury for the last 15 days, will most likely suit up for Game 5 and try to help the Montreal Canadiens take a 3-2 series lead over the New York Rangers at the Bell Centre Thursday.
"When I spoke to him after the morning skate, he said he was feeling good," said Canadiens coach Claude Julien in French. "So I told him to do the warmup, and after the warmup we’ll make a decision. If all goes well, I hope to have him in the lineup."
The left-shooting Emelin, who played on the left side of Montreal’s top defence pairing with Shea Weber for the first half of the season, will likely start on the right side and complete Montreal’s third pairing with Nathan Beaulieu.
Julien said he’s not committed to keeping Emelin away from his natural side for the entire game.
"We have options here," he added. "We haven’t always gone with strict pairs, and I think that’s going to continue."
No matter which side he plays on, Emelin will bring another physical component to a series that’s already seen 367 hits exchanged between the teams over the first four games. He led the Canadiens with 241 hits this season and finished ninth among all NHLers in the category.
"He means a lot to this team," said Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty. "He’s very, very hard to play against, and I know what it’s like to play against guys like him. It can creep into your mind sometimes when you’re skating with the puck.
"We’re excited that he’s [ready] to come back and help the team."
In 76 games this season, Emelin had two goals, eight assists and finished with a plus-1 rating. He struggled down the stretch and was scratched from the lineup on March 7 in Vancouver and on March 18 in Ottawa.
But he bounced back on a pairing with Jeff Petry, averaging over 20 minutes and going plus-3 over his next eight games, leading Julien to refer to him as a stable presence in his top-4.
It was on April 5, in Buffalo, that Emelin went down to injury in the third period of Montreal’s 2-1 loss to the Sabres.
He resumed skating last week and took part in his first practice with the team on Thursday morning.
"We took time with recovery, we didn’t force it," said Emelin. "I’m feeling good and ready; 100 per cent."