WASHINGTON -- Devante Smith-Pelly of the Washington Capitals received a hero's welcome for Game 5 of the Eastern Conference First Round against the Carolina Hurricanes at Capital One Arena Saturday.
Fans chanted "D-S-P" for the forward, who was a key cog in last season's run the Stanley Cup, but was placed on waivers Feb. 20 and sent to Hershey of the American Hockey League the next day.
It was a pretty good reception for a player who went 33 games without a goal prior to being sent to the AHL and was playing his first NHL game since Feb. 17. But it was an example of what a fan favorite he is.
[RELATED: Complete Capitals vs. Hurricanes series coverage]
"It's a great feeling," Smith-Pelly said after he was a plus-1 with one shot on goal in 10:43 of ice time in the 6-0 win against the Carolina Hurricanes that gave the Capitals a 3-2 lead in the best-of-7 series. "I think all I was doing was skating down the wing and kind of got in the forecheck and they started chanting stuff. It's a nice feeling and I'm glad to be back."
He'll continue trying to make the most of his return by being a physical, forechecking force in Game 6 at PNC Arena on Monday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TVAS, FS-CR, NBCSWA).
"Everyone did good job on the forecheck, making their [defensemen] turn and making it hard for them to get out on breakouts, so got to keep doing that if we're going to be successful," Smith-Pelly said.
Smith-Pelly was recalled from the AHL after forward T.J. Oshie was injured during Game 4 on Thursday. Capitals coach Todd Reirden said Smith-Pelly's return gave the players a spark after losing Oshie, who is out indefinitely because of an upper-body injury.
"I think when you go through the situation we went through the last couple of days in terms of losing one of our top players and leaders, you use that as an opportunity that someone has to take advantage of," Reirden said. "And for what Devante has gone through this year, a very well-liked player in our locker room, it was a nice, I'd say, distraction from us losing a top player, top leader on our team."
Video: CHI@WSH: Smith-Pelly buries feed from Boyd
Smith-Pelly said it's unfortunate that Oshie got hurt, but he intends to make the most of this opportunity with the Capitals.
"How I can help? Just doing what I do," he said. "Getting on the forecheck and making it hard on their [defensemen]."
He did that in Game 5, setting an early tone when he hit Hurricanes forward Nino Niederreiter in the first period.
"Good to get [Devante] back," forward Brett Connolly said. "It gives our team a little different element when he's forechecking and people are aware when he's on the ice and he did a great job."
It was a feel-good night for Smith-Pelly, who became a fan favorite during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs for scoring seven goals, including the game-tying goal in the Stanley Cup-clinching Game 5 win against the Vegas Golden Knights.
But he arrived at training camp out of shape and had eight points (four goals, four assists) in 54 games. The Capitals had to clear salary-cap space after they acquired forward Carl Hagelin and defenseman Nick Jensen before the NHL Trade Deadline, and the choice was made to move out Smith-Pelly.
Video: Capitals storm past Hurricanes in Game 5
He had 14 points (six goals, eight assists) in 20 AHL games, including a hat trick March 10 against Hartford.
Capitals fans clearly were happy to have Smith-Pelly back in Washington. Brooke Lewis, 13, clad in a red No. 25 Smith-Pelly Capitals jersey, held up a poster along the glass during pregame warmups that read, "From the City to the Den and Back Welcome Home DSP."
"He's my favorite player. He's very physical and fast," said Lewis, who is from Annapolis, Maryland. "I was so upset when he got sent down. I cried for two hours."
When the Capitals recalled him, "I was so happy that I started to cry again, but only for 30 minutes," she said.
Smith-Pelly sidestepped a question about whether he wondered if the Capitals ever would recall him. He said he's focused instead on helping his teammates and being back in Washington.
"I still have my place here, so it's good to come home and sleep in my own bed," he said.