ARLINGTON, Va. — John Carlson said he will be ready to play for the Washington Capitals in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup First Round against the Boston Bruins at Capital One Arena on Saturday (7:15 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS) after the defenseman missed the final two games of the regular season with a lower-body injury.
Carlson, who is fifth in the NHL among defensemen with 44 points (10 goals, 34 assists) in 52 games, was a full participant at practice Thursday and said he is looking forward to the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“Every single player growing up, every single player as you get older, you dream about these moments and (having) a chance to win,” Carlson said. “The regular season is long and pounding and hard, no matter if it’s this year or another normal year, but all of that work you put in over the summer, all of that work you put in throughout the year and the ups and downs you’ve had to overcome and get through to this point, to have a chance to win that trophy is what makes everything special.”
The Capitals are getting healthier with Carlson returning after forward Alex Ovechkin came back from a lower-body injury to play in a 2-1 victory against the Bruins in their regular-season finale Tuesday.
But the Capitals have several remaining unanswered questions concerning the health of forwards T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov and goalie Ilya Samsonov, and who their Game 1 starting goalie will be.
“Those are things we’re going to keep internal,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “Just with regard to the playoffs and where we go with our goaltending and our lineup, we’ll probably keep that internal in the playoffs.”
Oshie took a positive step in his recovery from a lower-body injury by skating prior to practice Thursday and remaining on the ice in a non-contact jersey for the first few drills of practice before leaving. Oshie didn’t play Tuesday after being injured during the second period of a 2-1 overtime win against the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday.
Oshie was second on the Capitals with 22 goals and third with 43 points in 53 games, so it would be a big boost if he’s able to play Saturday. But Laviolette wasn’t ready to say he will.
“Those are things we’re working through in the room,” Laviolette said.
The status of Kuznetsov and Samsonov is less clear, with each remaining in NHL COVID-19 protocol. Kuznetsov and Samsonov initially were scratched for Washington’s 6-3 win against the New York Rangers on May 3 for disciplinary reasons. Kuznetsov appeared on the NHL COVID-19 protocol list the next day and the Capitals confirmed Samsonov, who was assigned to the taxi squad when he didn’t play May 3, also is in protocol.
Neither has skated with the Capitals since May 3 and it is unknown how many days of practice they’ll need to be ready to play.
Kuznetsov scored 29 points (nine goals, 20 assists) in 41 games and would center one of Washington’s top two lines when healthy. Samsonov, who was 13-4-1 with a 2.69 goals-against average, a .902 save percentage and two shutouts in 19 games (18 starts), was competing with rookie Vitek Vanecek to be the Capitals’ starting goalie in the playoffs before entering protocol.
“We deal with what we can deal with inside of the room, and when pieces or players become available we put people back in the lineup,” Laviolette said. “So I understand that we’re talking about it and probably will tomorrow and the next day and those questions will come up, but we can only control what we can control.”
With Samsonov temporarily out of the picture, Vanecek appears to be the likely Game 1 starter, with Craig Anderson as the other option. Anderson, who spent most of the season on the taxi squad, was 2-1-0 with a 2.13 GAA and a .915 save percentage in four games (two starts).
The 39-year-old has played in 46 postseason games during his 18 NHL seasons, but none since 2017, when he helped the Ottawa Senators reached Eastern Conference Final.
Vanecek leads NHL rookies in wins (21-10-4) and had a 2.69 GAA, a .908 save percentage and two shutouts in 37 games (36 starts). The 25-year-old is seeking to make his NHL playoff debut.
“We will see what will happen in the playoffs,” Vanecek said. “It’s the first time, but I will do what I can to help the team win every single game. It’s really good and I’m excited for my first playoffs in the NHL.”