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Ovechkin out for Capitals against Rangers

Forward played one shift against New York in return after missing four with lower-body injury

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

Alex Ovechkin did not play for the Washington Capitals against the New York Rangers on Wednesday (NBCSN, NBCSWA+) because of a lower-body injury.

The forward left after playing one shift Monday, a 6-3 win at the Rangers. Ovechkin missed the previous four games with the injury. 

Capitals coach Peter Laviolette said he remains confident Ovechkin will be healthy for the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"Where it goes through the end of the year, the most important thing is the playoffs and they're a ways away," Laviolette said Tuesday. "I still feel we're in good shape for that. But our level of concern is high to make sure that he's healthy."

The Capitals (33-14-5) have clinched a playoff berth and were second in the eight-team MassMutual East Division, two points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins and two ahead of the Boston Bruins. Washington has three regular-season games remaining and will play its finale against Boston on May 11. The start date for the playoffs has not been announced.

Ovechkin was injured against the New York Islanders on April 22. The Capitals have been cautious throughout his recovery and believed he was ready to play after its morning skate Monday, but he played 39 seconds before leaving. 

"He went through the morning skate and he felt great," Laviolette said. "He went through a practice the day before and he felt great. There wasn't anything. There were no restrictions, no color jerseys, no being held back, and for whatever reason when he got into the warmup last night it felt a little bit different. So we didn't need to make a decision on it at that point because we weren't scratching a player to put him in the lineup. 

"When he went out and he tried it in the first shift, he said, 'It's just not right,' and we called it off."

Defenseman John Carlson returned Monday after missing two games with a lower-body injury, but the Capitals played with 17 skaters (one short of the maximum), including 11 forwards. Forward T.J. Oshie (death of his father) and defenseman Justin Schultz (lower body) were unavailable, and forward Evgeny Kuznetsov and goalie Ilya Samsonov were scratched for team disciplinary reasons.

Oshie played Wednesday, Schultz did not.

"We're a lot better team when T.J. is in our lineup," forward Lars Eller said. "We're fortunate to have a player like him in the first place. I can't imagine, I can only think of what the last couple days have been like for him, but when the puck drops and he comes into the flow of things again, I think we'll see the same T.J. Oshie that we're used to seeing. So I'm just glad he's back and everybody has been very supportive of his situation."

Samsonov and Kuznetsov, who was placed in NHL COVID-19 protocol Tuesday, also are out. Kuznetsov was on the list earlier this season from Jan. 20-Feb. 7.

"When you come out the other day and have to make an announcement like that, it's disappointing," Laviolette said. "Like I said the other day, there's got to be some rules in place, some standards in place, some expectations of how we're going to move as a group and accountability, and we have to adhere to that."

Ovechkin led Washington with 24 goals in 44 games. With 730 NHL goals, the 35-year-old is one from tying Marcel Dionne for fifth in history.

The Capitals captain also missed four games while in NHL COVID-19 protocol Jan. 20-29. Before this season, Ovechkin sat out more than four games in a season once in his NHL career. In 2009-10, he missed six games with a shoulder injury and was suspended for four games.

"Tonight is a big game for our team," Laviolette said. "We feel like we're putting a good lineup out on the ice. We've got to go out and play hard. We've got to work hard. We've got to execute. If we do enough of those things the right way and well enough, we can walk out with the points and we can continue to push for the division."

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