For the past five months Panthers veteran defenseman Ed Jovanovski has patiently participated in practices and morning skates in a courageous effort to continue his 17-year NHL career following major hip surgery last April.

Finally, on Thursday following a physical practice at Saveology.com Iceplex, the team's medical staff cleared Jovanovski to play, according to a source. And on Saturday night against the Nashville Predators the Panthers will get their captain back for the first time since March.

"The way he practices he looks ready,'' Panthers coach Peter Horachek said after practice, but before Jovanovski was cleared. "You're kind of working on [uncharted] ground that hasn't been worked on before with this surgery, having a hip replacement.''

Jovanovski underwent hip resurfacing, which is an alternative to a complete hip replacement, and less invasive because most of the femur bone is left intact.

It's believed that no athlete from any of the four major professional sports has ever come back successfully after this relatively new procedure.

Former Lightning center Tim Taylor underwent hip resurfacing at 37 after the 2007 season and never played another NHL game. Bo Jackson, an NFL and MLB star, had a hip replacement in 1991 and was forced to retire at 29.

"I don't think it's ever happened,'' said Dr. Audie Rolnick, a Plantation hip replacement surgeon, who doesn't do resurfacing.