Marian Gaborik #10 and Vaclav Prospal #20 of the New...

Marian Gaborik #10 and Vaclav Prospal #20 of the New York Rangers celebrate after Gaborik scored a third period goal against the Phoenix Coyotes during the NHL game at Arena. (Jan. 30, 2010) Credit: Getty Images

GREENBURGH, N.Y. - Vinny Prospal's answer was so typical of him.

The veteran left wing, who underwent major surgery on his right knee in October and hasn't played a game since April, was asked whether his return Thursday night against the Devils would jump-start his once-and-future linemate Marian Gaborik.

"I hope he jump-starts me . . . I'm the one who's coming back," the 35-year-old forward said with a grin, knowing full well that Gaborik's production is critical in the Rangers' stretch run to the playoffs.

"It's going to be the same as the beginning of last year," said Prospal, who scored 58 points and whose chemistry with Gaborik set the tone for the right wing's 42-goal season. "I guess every player who comes back from surgery or whatever, he's going to be looking in his head at the past; I'm going to try to re-live that, bring it back so I can come out and play with confidence and not second-guess myself."

"Obviously," Prospal added, "we need the guy to start scoring important goals for us just like he's done all of last year. He knows himself that he's been a little slow in that regard so he knows that maybe it's going to help him, and I'm going to try to help him as much as possible to score.''

Prospal will wear a brace and return with the same number, 20, but minus a letter. In his absence, Tortorella named Marc Staal an alternate captain and he will keep the "A.''

"We're trying to build a team with a foundation of our young guys," Tortorella said. "[Vinny's] a pro. He almost wanted it to happen because he feels it's good for the development. He understands that, he understands the transition, he'll lead anyway. No one practices harder than Vinny Prospal."

On the day that Prospal's return became official, there was more injury news: Ruslan Fedotenko, who suffered a separated shoulder on Jan. 19, had his appendix removed and will be out for another 3-4 weeks.

Notes & quotes: Brandon Dubinsky (hip) and Ryan Callahan (upper body) were sore and did not practice but will play against New Jersey . . . When the Penguins shot first in Tuesday's seven-round shootout loss, it was a departure from Tortorella's style. But the coach said that in discussions with Henrik Lundqvist, the goaltender prefers to try to make the first save and put pressure on the opposing goalie, so he opted for that strategy against Pittsburgh.

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