Capitals’ Ovechkin eyes a return for Game 1

Alex Ovechkin practiced with his teammates Sunday as the Capitals prepared for their first-round series against the Florida Panthers.

Ovechkin missed the final three games of the regular season due to an upper-body injury and has been considered day-to-day by the team. Game 1 will be Tuesday in Florida at 7:30 p.m.

“He had a good day today,” Head Coach Peter Laviolette said after Sunday’s practice. “He didn’t shy away from anything, so we hope he keeps moving forward.”

Ovechkin, who was injured April 24 while playing against the Toronto Maple Leafs, took regular reps at practice Sunday on a top line with Evgeny Kuznetsov and Conor Sheary.

He finished practice, as he typically does, firing one-timers from the left faceoff circle.

Ovechkin said afterward he felt “good” and that he could have played last week if they were playoff games.

“We knew we made the playoffs and just decided to take a rest,” he said.

Ovechkin and the team stopped short of confirming he’ll play Tuesday, but Ovechkin’s track record would suggest that, if he can play through any lingering issues, he will.

Ovechkin has missed a total of 27 games due to injuries during his 17-year NHL career, yet never missed a game in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. As the Capitals’ all-time leading scorer in the postseason, Ovechkin has had 71 goals and 135 points across 141 playoff games.

With or without Ovechkin, the Capitals face a daunting task in Florida. The Panthers finished atop the NHL’s overall standings and have been the NHL’s highest scoring team in 26 years.

“It should be a good challenge for us,” Center Nicklas Backstrom said. “I think this time of year, we really need to focus on playing good defensively. That’s where you’re going to win games, especially against this team, too.”

Although the Capitals ended the regular-season with three consecutive losses in regulation, they are less than two weeks removed from strong defensive efforts in Colorado, Las Vegas and Arizona for their next-to-last road trip.

Backstrom described the Capitals’ 3-2 win over Colorado on April 18 as the team’s best and most complete game of the season.

“We didn’t have any turnovers that game,” he said. “All four lines played good. That’s what you need in the playoffs. You need everyone helping.”

Forward Tom Wilson suggested the blueprint was laid on that road trip for the type of defensive discipline that could slow down the Panthers.

“It’s a great foundation,” Wilson said.

“That’s what’s expected in the playoffs. We’re going to need to play that way. This group is an experienced group, and when we’re playing well, we know what it takes, we know what we’re doing right. And we’ve got to be focused on that going into Game 1 … we’re excited about it. We’ve played some of the best teams in the league really well throughout the year.”

The Capitals also feel they can draw on their 2018 Stanley Cup run, when they played a physical, heavy brand of hockey that wore opponents down as their series went deeper.

“I think physicality will probably be our biggest strength,” said Winger T.J. Oshie, one of nine Capitals who remain from their Cup-winning team. “If we play a physical game, more times than not, we’ll be spending a lot of time in their end. I think that’s just one of the characteristics of our team anyway, but especially in the playoffs and looking back to 2018, I think that will go a long way.”

Below are the Capitals’ line combinations and defensive pairings from practice Sunday:

  • Ovechkin-Kuznetsov-Sheary
  • Johansson-Backstrom-Wilson
  • Mantha-Eller-Oshie
  • Larsson-Dowd-Hathaway
  • Fehervary-Carlson
  • Orlov-Jensen
  • van Riemsdyk-Schultz

Catch every Capitals playoff game on 1500AM and be sure to download and subscribe to the Caps This Morning Podcast for more news and analysis.

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