ARLINGTON, Va. -- John Erskine
has played a total of eight minutes and 31 seconds of NHL hockey since Jan. 31, so he’s probably more than a little excited to get back in the lineup for the Washington Capitals
for Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals on Thursday against the Boston Bruins
(7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC).
Given Erskine’s disposition when he’s on the ice, it is exactly what the Capitals are looking for. Neither Erskine nor coach Dale Hunter
would confirm it Thursday morning, but all signs point to the rugged defenseman replacing Jeff Schultz
next to Dennis Wideman
on the team’s third defensive pairing against the Bruins.
“If I do play [Thursday], I think I just have to go out and play a simple game and not try to do much and let come the game to me. Don’t be lunging at people and stuff like that,” Erskine said after the team’s morning skate. “Playoffs are an exciting period, but yeah, it is a lot of ... having not played in a couple months, I’ll be going.”
Added Hunter: “We just want him there because he plays the body. After the whistles, I think they’re going to clamp down on and we don’t want no penalties. We want to play through the whistle and skate away. We’ll play hockey between the whistles. We just want him there to finish more hits on Boston.”
Erskine was last in the lineup Feb. 12, and before that it was Jan. 31. He’s spent much of this season as a healthy scratch after it started late for him because of offseason shoulder surgery. He missed the final 27 games of the regular season, first as a healthy scratch and then near the end of the season with a lower-body injury.
A season after playing in a career-best 73 games and establishing himself as a consistent top-six defenseman for the Capitals, he played only 28 games in 2011-12, his lowest total since joining the organization before the 2006-07 season.
Despite not playing for so long, Erskine said he isn’t worried about his conditioning.
“I’ve been bag skating for two months now, so I think I’ll be good like that,” he said. “Whenever you get thrown into a game, though, it is a different kind of conditioning. It will take me a few shifts to get going. ... I’m not going to change my game -- my game is to play physical, play tough in front of the net and just play a simple game.”
The physical play, both between the whistles and after them, ramped up significantly in Game 3 of this series. Boston was credited with 58 hits, and the Bruins baited the Capitals into more jostling after goalies made saves and before faceoffs.
Those are the areas where Erskine can provide the Capitals with an extra bit of snarl. He is also a willing combatant, should one of Boston’s tough guys, like Milan Lucic
or Shawn Thornton
, be interested in a round of fisticuffs.
“He’s physical and a tough guy to play against,” Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner
said of Erskine. “He’s got that heavy, heavy shot when he can let it go from the point. It is tough for goalies to handle. He’s just one of those guys that you really like having in your lineup.”
Added Erskine: “I’ve been like that since Game 1. It is definitely my style of game -- physical and with the ruggedness of the series.