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Martin Brodeur is ready to return in a contest that figures to be critical to the New Jersey Devils' playoff hopes.

Brodeur will start for the first time in a month as the Devils try to end their road woes and hand the Carolina Hurricanes a fifth straight loss Thursday night.

The NHL's all-time winningest goaltender has been out since Feb. 21 with a pinched nerve in his upper back and neck. He practiced with the team Monday for the first time since being hurt, with Johan Hedberg making one more start Tuesday in a 3-2 home loss to the Rangers.

Now Brodeur is ready to go for New Jersey (13-11-6), which is 0-2-1 in its last three overall and 0-4-2 in its last six on the road.

"I'm just excited to be back, it's been almost a week and a half, two weeks since I have been on the ice," Brodeur said at Wednesday's practice. "It's nice that my symptoms have all gone away, I'm ready to go tomorrow."

New Jersey went 3-8-2 without Brodeur.

"We've got to this stage right now and we've got 18 games to go," Brodeur said. "We know we need not just to play well but we know we need to get some points. It's all about winning from now on. We've got to find that second gear, that urgency to get points."

The Devils are in a tight race to reach the postseason, and their 32 points are the same total as Carolina (15-12-2). Coach Pete DeBoer underscored the importance of succeeding against teams close to New Jersey in the standings.

"We've got a lot of those on the schedule coming up," DeBoer said. "They're critical. You can't underestimate their importance, especially the four-point aspect of it when they're either directly ahead or behind you."

The Hurricanes are on a season-worst 0-3-1 slide, but they have totaled 10 goals in going 2-0-0 against the Devils in 2013. Jiri Tlusty has team highs of four goals and five points in those contests, with Eric Staal chipping in four assists.

Carolina coach Kirk Muller saw positives in Tuesday's 4-1 home loss to Florida, a game that was scoreless heading into the third period.

"I thought actually at times tonight, it actually looked better than it has in a month," Muller said. "There's just no results. You've just got to let them sort through it and get one goal, and I think their confidence level will grow on it and then it'll just come natural again."

The Hurricanes got bad news out of that game, though, when defenseman Justin Faulk was hurt in a collision. Faulk, the club's leader in ice time, will miss two to four weeks with a sprained knee ligament.

Jordan Staal's goal Tuesday is Carolina's lone power-play score in 16 chances. The Hurricanes are at 13.1 percent with the man advantage for one of the league's worst marks, although they are 3 for 8 against the Devils.

Ilya Kovalchuk has three goals in the season series to lead New Jersey.

Devils center Andrei Loktionov practiced Wednesday and could be back after missing two games due to soreness.

Tagged: Hurricanes, Devils, Martin Brodeur

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