Ovechkin will likely play for the Capitals in Game 1 against the Panthers
WASHINGTON — Alex Ovechkin looks set to play for the Washington Capitals in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference First Round against the Florida Panthers at FLA Live Arena on Tuesday (7:30 p.m. ET; ESPN2, SN360, TVAS2, BSFL, NBCSWA).
Ovechkin smiled and said ‘we’ll see’ when asked if he’ll play on Tuesday, but all signs point to the striker coming back from the upper-body injury that has seen him miss the last three games of the league. Capitals regular season. Ovechkin was a full participant in practice on Sunday, skating left wing on the top line and in his usual spot in the left circle on the first power-play unit and appearing unrestrained while working on his one-timer at the end of entraine toi.
“Right now it’s day to day,” Capitals coach Peter Laviolette said. “He had a good day today. You saw him there. He didn’t hold back, so hopefully he keeps going.”
While Ovechkin also hasn’t confirmed he’ll play in Game 1, he said he felt “good” in practice and would have played the final three games of the regular season. Capitals had it been the Stanley Cup playoffs. During his 17 NHL seasons, Ovechkin missed 27 regular season games due to injury and never missed a playoff game.
“Obviously we knew we made the playoffs and just decided to rest,” Ovechkin said.
Ovechkin was injured when he tripped over the keeper’s stick Erik Kalgren and crashed left shoulder first into the end boards after failing to score on a breakaway during the third period of Washington’s 4-3 shootout loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on April 24. Ovechkin participated in morning practice before facing the New York Islanders on Thursday and skated again ahead of their regular season finale against the New York Rangers on Friday, but did not play in either game.
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Washington returned to practice Sunday after taking Saturday off, and Ovechkin seemed eager to start the playoffs.
“It looks great,” Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom said after feeding Ovechkin for one-offs at the end of practice. “He looked like himself, I think, there.”
The Capitals will need Ovechkin at his best against the Panthers, who led the NHL with an average of 4.11 goals per game. The Capitals lost all three games he missed, being outscored 12-4.
Ovechkin finished fourth in the NHL and led Washington with 50 goals in 77 regular season games. It was the 36-year-old’s ninth 50-goal season, tying the NHL record shared by Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy.
Ovechkin is third in NHL history with 780 goals after passing Marcel Dionne (731) for fifth against the Rangers on Oct. 13, Brett Hull (741) for fourth against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Nov. 12 and Jaromir Jagr (766) for third against the Islanders on March 15. He is 21 goals behind second-place Gordie Howe with 801 and 114 behind Gretzky’s NHL record of 894.
“Obviously he is the top scorer in the League and goals are important,” said the defender Dmitry Orlov mentioned. “You can see the last three games we haven’t scored a lot. Of course we need him as a captain, as a leader, as a goalscorer, so we need everyone, everyone healthy right now, so that’s good.”
Besides being tight-lipped about Ovechkin’s status for Game 1, Laviolette didn’t reveal who will start in goal for Washington in Game 1. Ilya Samsonov (23-12-5, 3.02 GAA, .896 save percentage, three shutouts) and Vitek Vanecek (20-12-6, 2.67 GAA, .908 save percentage) have been inconsistent throughout the regular season.
“You’d like to see the goalie fly up and run,” Laviolette said. “Like I said during the regular season, that was also the case. But we used both goalies, we were able to win a lot of hockey games, have a successful, somewhat successful season with 100 points using the two guards.”