Caps’ Wilson out for Game 2 vs. Panthers

After battling through injuries and COVID-related absences for much of the season, the Capitals opened the Stanley Cup Playoffs this week with as close to their optimal lineup as they have had at any point this season. It didn’t last long.

Tom Wilson is out with a lower-body injury and will not play Game 2 against the Florida Panthers.

“We always hope for the best with players,” said head coach Peter Laviolette. “He’s listed as day-to-day. We hope to see him down the road.”

Wilson opened the scoring in Game 1 Tuesday with an early power-play goal, but only played three first-period shifts spread across 91 seconds.

He had career highs during the regular season with 24 goals and 52 points in 78 games.

“You can’t replace Tom,” said Caps winger T.J. Oshie. “Especially in playoffs, he is one of our most important players because of his ability to play physical, his ability to score big goals, his ability to penalty kill, (to play on the) power play — he is just a guy you cannot replace.”

In addition to Wilson’s versatility and on-ice production, the 6’4” tall, 220-pound power forward brings intangibles.

“His presence in the room is very influential to our team,” Oshie said. “We are hoping for the best. I think everyone knows he is a pretty tough guy, so hopefully he will be out there with us in a couple nights — and if not, it is next man up like it always is.”

In the Capitals’ case, that means an opportunity for rookie Brett Leason. A second-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, Leason was recalled from AHL Hershey and will make his NHL postseason debut in Game 2.

“Obviously very excited,” said Leason, who had three goals and six points in 36 games with the Capitals this season. “Very fortunate to get this chance. Hope I can make the most of it.”

Leason has split time this season between the Capitals and the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears. The 6’5,” 218-pound winger made his NHL debut in October and was in the lineup for all three regular-season meetings against Florida.

Laviolette spoke with Leason Thursday morning and said “He was really calm.”

The coach added: “We went over the pre-scout and the systems and things that happened in the first game. Pretty levelheaded kid. But I’m sure tonight, as it ramps up and you go out on the ice with the fans the way they were last game and the noise in the building, it becomes really exciting. Once you get into it, it’s just hockey. It’s just that initial bang that you take in for the first time.”

The Capitals were encouraged by their ability to slow Florida down in their series-opening 4-2 win. Leason has proven to be responsible defensively, one of the reasons he’ll be in the lineup against the NHL’s highest-scoring team in the regular season.

Leason will play on a fourth line with Johan Larsson and Nic Dowd. Leason, who hasn’t played a postseason game at any level since the 2019 Memorial Cup with the Western Hockey League’s Prince Albert Raiders, said he feels he earned this opportunity.

“It’s been crazy,” he said of his journey as a pro. “I think this season, I took some big strides. Obviously playing my first game, scoring my first goal, just being part of the team — I feel like my development from the start of the season to now, I’m happy with it. And the Caps should be happy with it too.”

Below is the Capitals’ anticipated lineup for Game 2 in Florida:

Front lines

Ovechkin-Kuznetsov-Sheary

Johansson-Backstrom-Oshie

Mantha-Eller-Hathaway

Larsson-Dowd-Leason

Defensemen

Fehervary-Carlson

Orlov-Jensen

van Riemsdyk-Schultz

In goal

Vanecek

Samsonov

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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