Hurricanes welcome Vasicek back into the lineup

Updated: April 3, 2006, 10:12 PM ET
Associated Press

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Josef Vasicek went home from the morning skate and tried to take his customary nap.

But it was no use. He simply was too excited.

Josef Vasicek

"My nap wasn't as good as I expected," the Carolina Hurricanes' center said. "I'm kind of anxious to get out there."

For the first time since Nov. 11, Vasicek took the ice with his teammates for the game against the Washington Capitals on Monday night. He missed 59 games with a knee injury, and coach Peter Laviolette planned to ease him back into the lineup.

It didn't work out that way, as Vasicek played 15 minutes and finished with two goals and two assists -- the first four-point game of his five-year NHL career. Carolina won 6-5 in overtime on Ray Whitney's power-play goal.

"We don't expect him to come in and move mountains," Laviolette said before the game. "We just want him to get his feet wet, get him some minutes and work him back in slowly."

Whatever Vasicek can bring will be much appreciated. The Hurricanes have lost 247 games to injuries this season, with Erik Cole, Niclas Wallin and Andrew Ladd all out of the lineup with various ailments.

Despite playing short-handed so often, Carolina clinched the Southeast Division with nine games left, and the main goal now is to get ready for the playoffs. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound Vasicek figures to be a big part of any success there.

"We don't really have another player like him, a forward who's a big guy, strong like that," defenseman Mike Commodore said. "I think it's a big boost for us."

Vasicek knows better than anyone that he needs time to get back into a playing rhythm, even though he's been practicing for nearly a month. He still has some pain in his knee, which likely will be with him for a while.

None of that matters at this point. Vasicek is back playing.

"It has been a long time," he said. "I'm just really anxious to get out there."

In the season before the lockout, Vasicek was Carolina's leading scorer with 19 goals and 26 assists in 82 games. He played with Slavia Praha of the Czech Republic Extraleague while the NHL was on hiatus and had 20 goals and 23 assists.

Again, he was the leading scorer.

"We have a lot of different kind of guys in the locker room, but not a lot of guys who are 6-4 and as tough to move as Joe," Laviolette said. "He's a big guy who really protects that puck, and he's tough to get off of it. He's a skill player, so he should be a good addition."

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press