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Caps hope Carlson can play in Game 2

by Corey Masisak
Defenseman John Carlson didn't play much in the final 20 minutes Friday night in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinal series and he didn't practice Saturday, but Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau and teammates are optimistic about his chances of being available Sunday for Game 2 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

"I think he's - pretty good chance that he'll play tomorrow," Boudreau said. "But I'm not 100 percent sure."

Carlson was injured in a pileup near the net after he hit Tampa Bay's Nate Thompson. The 21-year-old defenseman had a great rookie season for the Capitals, essentially assuming the role of No. 1 defenseman when guys like Mike Green, Tom Poti and Dennis Wideman were injured.

He and fellow young defenseman Karl Alzner have formed Washington's most consistent pairing this season, and Boudreau has entrusted them to play against top competition despite their relative lack of age and experience.

"We've had a lot of instances where we went down to five "D," more than I've had in recent years at least," Alzner said. "It is not too bad, but John is a huge part of this team and it affects the team as a whole instead of just any individual guy.

"He's a tough guy who likes to battle and we'd definitely like to have him back. It is tough to say -- I just saw him a little bit getting treatment. That's about it. I think most guys are optimistic about him playing."

Carlson left the bench in the second period and returned for the third but took only a couple of short shifts. He stayed on the bench for a while and skated during television timeouts before eventually heading back to the dressing room for good.

Green was in a similar situation during Game 5 against the New York Rangers - he was injured and stayed on the bench. Boudreau said Green was OK to play in case of an emergency, but that wasn't the case for Carlson on Friday.

"No, yesterday he was sore," Boudreau said. "Because if we could have used him, we would have used him."

The byproduct of Carlson's absence was an added strain on Green. With Wideman injured, Carlson and Green are the team's lone consistent offensive threats on the blue line. Green played more than 11 minutes in the third period because Carlson was missing and the Capitals were down a goal and trying to find an equalizer in an eventual 4-2 loss to the Lightning.

"When you look at Mike Green's minutes at 27 minutes, it is too high," Boudreau said. "He had a great series against New York but he was playing 18-20 (minutes). Those are the kind of minutes we have to get back to."

Added Green: "I felt the same way. To be effective, especially in the playoffs, you have to keep your shifts short and be fresh. I felt like I was out there a little too much and I didn't feel like I was able to be as productive as I could have been."

If Carlson cannot play in Game 2, Boudreau said he doesn't think Poti or Wideman will be available as a replacement. Both veterans have been out for a long time with injuries but have been skating almost every day during the postseason.

The most likely is option if Carlson can't go is 27-year-old Sean Collins, who played four games near the end of the regular season after spending nearly all of the past two seasons in the American Hockey League.

Tyler Sloan has spent that time with the Capitals as a reserve defenseman, but Collins came off the ice with the rest of the Capitals expected to play Saturday while Sloan and recent call-up Patrick McNeil stayed on the ice with the other scratches and "Black Aces" from AHL Hershey.

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