John Carlson will be a game-time decision for the Washington Capitals when they play the New York Islanders in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference First Round at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto on Wednesday (3 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVAS, NBCSWA, MSG, MSG +).
But center Lars Eller, who remains in quarantine after returning to Toronto, the Eastern Conference hub city, on Saturday following the birth of his son, Alexander, won’t be available to play for the Capitals before Game 2 of the best-of-7 series on Friday.
Carlson, a finalist for the Norris Trophy, awarded to the best defenseman in the NHL, sat out Washington’s three games in the round-robin portion of the Stanley Cup Qualifiers after leaving during the third period of the Capitals’ 3-2 exhibition win against the Carolina Hurricanes on July 29. But he has practiced regularly since Aug. 1.
“For us to have him in the lineup will be, would be, huge to have and something we are hopeful that can happen,” coach Todd Reirden said Tuesday. “And if not, we’ve got people that can fill in and that is what it is all about, take advantage of that opportunity. And we will make that decision tomorrow at 3 p.m. and put our best foot forward here to get a start on this series the proper way.”
Carlson got tangled up with Carolina forward Nino Niederrieter and fell into the end boards with 14:53 remaining and played one more shift before leaving. The Capitals were cautious with the 30-year-old during the round-robin, knowing they had a bye into the Stanley Cup Playoffs and were playing for seeding.
But having him back for Game 1 against the Islanders would be a big boost.
Carlson led NHL defensemen and set League career highs with 60 assists and 75 points in 69 games before the season was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus. He also tied Minnesota Wild defenseman Ryan Suter for ninth in the NHL in average ice time per game (24:38) and became the unquestioned leader of Washington’s defense following the retirement of Brooks Orpik and the trade of Matt Niskanen to the Philadelphia Flyers on June 14, 2019.
“He obviously had a tremendous year and anytime you don’t have a player of that caliber in your lineup it is difficult,” Reirden said. “I think especially with how our defense has transitioned prior to the start of the year, him really taking over the leadership back there and having some good players around [him], it has made his importance more valuable to our team than even in the past.”
Travis Boyd will continue to fill in for Eller as the Capitals third-line center. Eller, who also missed Washington’s final two round-robin games, scored an NHL career-high 39 points (16 goals, 23 assists) in 69 regular-season games.
“We are hoping to get Lars back for Game 2 but Game 1 we will go without him,” Reirden said. “That is what it is all about, team depth and having different people step up at different times until we have Lars back.”