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Hurricanes welcome Vasicek back into the lineup

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.

"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."