Capitals rookie Shane Gersich hopes to build off Stanley Cup Playoff debut

WASHINGTON – Rookie Shane Gersich is expected to remain in the Washington Capitals lineup Saturday for Game 5 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Pittsburgh Penguins (7:25 p.m.; WFED 1500AM).

Gersich, 21, made his NHL postseason debut in Game 4 Thursday in Pittsburgh. The Penguins beat the Capitals 3-1 to even the series at two games apiece.

“I thought for the most part it went pretty good,” Gersich said of his maiden experience in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. “Obviously, you want to get the win so that’s pretty disappointing. At the same time, it was an exciting first playoff game for me.”

Gersich was a healthy scratch for Washington’s first nine playoff games, but Tom Wilson’s three-game suspension created an opening in the lineup. Gersich was told Wednesday that if Wilson was suspended, he would be the next man up.

“He brings a lot of the elements we’re looking for,” said Capitals head coach Barry Trotz. “He’s got great wheels, has a competitive spirit about him, real god hockey IQ.”

Gersich skated alongside veterans Jay Beagle and Alex Chiasson on the Capitals’ fourth line Thursday and made the most of his limited ice time.

The 5-foot-11 winger had a team-low 5:48 worth of ice time spread over nine shifts, but that didn’t keep him from making an impact.

After sitting on the bench for the first six minutes of the first period, Gersich came as advertised on his first shift, using his speed and working aggressively on the forecheck. He even delivered a big hit in the corner on Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta.

“Whenever you get out there, you try to have a positive impact and create some energy for the guys,” he said. “I thought I did that early on, but just a bummer we didn’t get the win.”

On his second shift, Gersich had one of Washington’s best even-strength scoring chances of the night, when he was sent in alone before being denied by a Matt Murray pad save.

Following an optional practice Friday afternoon at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex, Gersich said that he even though he didn’t beat Murray in the first period, the early scoring chance had a positive impact.

“I think every time you have a chance, you get a little more confidence and feel a little more comfortable out there,” he said. “So, the more you can create and the more chances you can get, the more confident you feel and the more plays you can make out there.”

Trotz was also pleased with Gersich’s postseason debut.

“I would’ve loved to see him score on his first opportunity,” Trotz said. “He had a real good look. He did well.”

“When you’re sitting there watching and you haven’t played a lot of National Hockey League games and you haven’t played in a playoff game and you’ve been around the intensity of the playoffs and then all of a sudden the coach calls your name and you’re the guy going on the ice, I thought he was pretty poised. He did a real good job. You can see he’s got a real good skillset.”

Gersich signed an entry-level deal with the Capitals after completing his junior season at the University of North Dakota in late March. Washington’s fifth-round pick (134th overall) in the 2014 NHL Draft appeared in three regular-season games down the stretch.

“His game is unique,” said Beagle. “He’s a little waterbug who really can fly. He’s got great hands, a good shot. I don’t know where he’ll fit in (long-term) but it definitely won’t be as a fourth-line guy once he develops and he plays for this team. He’s got a lot of skill and a lot of potential.”

As the Capitals look for increased secondary scoring this spring, some more finish from the fourth line would certainly be welcome. Beagle hasn’t scored in his last eight games, while Chiasson has yet to register a point in 10 postseason games.

Gersich provides the trio with energy and the potential for some high-end skill. Beagle hopes it can work in the club’s favor.

“I don’t want to limit that,” he said of Gersich’s offensive instincts. “I want to make sure that I feed off him. We want to make sure that we play smart, but safe is death. I don’t want him to play something that he’s not. I want to make sure that he plays his style and what makes him successful and what got him here.”

Catch Game 5 between the Capitals and Penguins on Saturday on WFED 1500AM. Pregame coverage begins at 6:45 p.m. with John Walton, Ken Sabourin and Ben Raby.

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