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Capitals' Green is returning to defensive form

by Corey Masisak /

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Mike Green hadn't played more than 33 minutes in a game for nearly 365 days, yet he said he felt better in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal Series between his Washington Capitals and the Boston Bruins than he had in maybe twice that long.

It has been a struggle for Green to stay on the ice the past two seasons because of an assortment of injuries. When he's been healthy, it hasn't been easy to find his old, world-class form.

He has been a consistent presence for the Capitals in the first two games of this series, and there have been signs that Green might be closer to finding normalcy again.

"I think it's just, you know, my body and the state of mind I'm in," Green said. "I think kind of over the last couple of years it has been tough with the injuries and what not, but I finally feel good. Not only that, I think it is all about feel. I have a good feel, and I don't know how to explain it."


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Green logged 33:28 of ice time in Washington's 2-1 victory in double overtime Saturday at TD Garden to level the series. His previous high during the 2011-12 campaign was 26:01 on Mar. 22 against Philadelphia -- a total that used to just be a typical night for him.

He averaged more than 25 minutes per contest in each of the three seasons that proceeded this one, but he averaged less than 22 per game during the regular-season portion of this campaign.

"He's been banged up pretty much all year, but he's got a few games under him now," Capitals coach Dale Hunter said. "He's still making plays and he's on the power play ... but there's both ends to this ice and you have to defend as well as you create stuff too and he's been doing that."

Two seasons ago it was head injuries. He had multiple issues in a short timespan -- Green took a puck to the head Feb. 6, 2011 and then an elbow from New York Rangers' Derek Stepan 19 days later. Green returned to play for the postseason, but then was hurt twice during the team's brief run to the second round.

This season it was an ankle injury and then a nagging groin problem that eventually needed surgery. He has played a total of 81 games in the past two seasons combined, including 32 in 2011-12.

Green had two goals and six points in seven games to start this season, but he was injured near the end of a two-goal, four-point effort against Detroit. After returning only to be injured again twice, he was back in the lineup permanently Mar. 18.

While Green has been healthy, the offensive production that made him a star has not returned. He had only one assist after returning and hasn't scored a goal since that game against Detroit in October.

What has come back for Green is his ability to play well in the defensive zone and the ability to carry or pass the puck out of danger. Green was often criticized for his defensive work when he was lighting up goaltenders, but the reality was his aptitude in his own end improved greatly from when he scored 31 goals in 2007-08 until before the injuries began to erode his playing time.

"It was probably about a game or two before the playoffs, to be honest," Green said about feeling more like he did in years past. "It was weird how it took that long, but being out that long I think the mental game is more of it. I felt great physically, but mentally I needed to find it again."

Added Hunter: "He's playing well for us. He's moving the puck up. It is tight hockey out there, and we need him to play good defense and let the offense come."

Even if Green does not score like he once did, he can be a valuable asset for the Capitals. There is also a chance for some postseason redemption for him. When things went sideways for the Capitals in previous playoffs, Green often felt the collective finger of scrutiny pointed in his direction.

After his team's optional practice Sunday at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, Green certainly appeared more at ease than he has in past postseasons.

"I think one of the things too is there is not that pressure where you have to score and that is the bottom line," he said. "I think it is about playing solid and playing your position and Dale enforces that. That just brings the whole team around the same mindset, and then we all feel confident and play better."

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