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Green eager to get back on ice for playoffs

by Corey Masisak
ARLINGTON, Va. -- There have been a handful of occasions in each of his four seasons as coach of the Washington Capitals where Bruce Boudreau has had to go out on the bench after practice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex and yell at his players to get off the ice.

The NHL season can be a grueling one, with three games in four nights and back-to-back nights in cities a thousand miles apart. A couple of Boudreau's players have a penchant for staying on the ice after practice too long for his liking, so he has to remind them that they need their rest.

Mike Green has always been on those players. Green logs more minutes per game than any player on the Capitals -- some nights in excess of 30 minutes -- but still he will spend extra time on the ice most mornings.

He's a "rink rat" in hockey terminology, and that's part of what has made his nearly two-month absence because of a pair of head injuries so troublesome for him.

"I think he's the type of guy who loves being around the guys and it is really hard to keep him off the ice," defenseman Jeff Schultz said. "Even when he is playing a ton, he rarely takes the optional skates off. It is just that love of the game that he has, the passion that he shows for the game -- it will just be great to have him back."

Green will likely be back in the lineup Wednesday night for the Capitals in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against the New York Rangers. Boudreau says Green will have one final check-up before the game, but the defenseman has been confident he will be back for a couple of days now.

For the first time since the last time the Capitals played the Rangers, a 6-0 loss at Verizon Center on Feb. 25, Green woke up Wednesday morning knowing it would likely be game day for him.

"[It feels] great, just great -- I've been so excited to get back here," Green said. "I've been ready for a while, but it was just a matter of timing. What better way to start playing again than in the playoffs?"

The first injury came Feb. 6 against the Pittsburgh Penguins. He took a shot in the ear and missed six of the next seven games because of what the team termed inner ear trauma. He had issues with his balance, but Boudreau said on multiple occasions Green had not been diagnosed with a concussion.

Green returned against the Rangers, but a hit to the side of his head from rookie center Derek Stepan knocked him out again. This time Green was diagnosed with a concussion, and he missed the final 20 games of the regular season because of it.

"It has been frustrating sitting out this long, and I've been ready for a while," Green said. "We're just making sure I'm in game shape to play. Finally the day is here. I was just excited to be out there with the boys and getting ready for [Game 1]."

Added Matt Bradley: "Yeah, I kind of went through it in the middle of the season with my broken finger. You want to be out there so bad and you can't play. I'm sure he's really looking forward to being out there. … It is huge for us. He's our top D and the way he can control the play and control the puck, especially on the power play, is something we really need right now."

Stepan was fined for the hit but not suspended. It is possible the Verizon Center crowd will voice its collective displeasure with the Rangers rookie, but Green said he has no "ill will" towards Stepan.

"Obviously that is in the back of my mind," Green said of playing the team that knocked him out. "I am healthy, though, and I don't expect to get hurt again."

Green was the League's top offensive defenseman in the previous two seasons, leading everyone at his position in goals and points while collecting the only two 70-point seasons by an active rearguard not named Nicklas Lidstrom.

This year was derailed by the injuries and a slow start for the entire team on offense. Green finished with 8 goals and 24 points in 49 games.

"[The playoffs] are the real season, at least for me," Green said. "It has been a great season for this hockey club and that's all that matters."

Postseason history is also part of what makes Green one of the most fascinating players to watch in the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs. While Green has dominated in the regular season in the previous two campaigns, he has struggled at times in the playoffs and had to deal with plenty of criticism for the team's lack of success.

Some of it has been deserved, but some of it comes from incredibly high expectations. He was one of the best players on the ice for Washington in Game 7 against Montreal, but the Capitals were unable to solve Jaroslav Halak.

This postseason could be a clean slate for Green -- a chance to move past the injuries and previous playoffs. A healthy and productive Green could also make the already dangerous Capitals even more formidable.

"Everyone knows what he is capable of doing," Schultz said. "It may take him a few shifts for him to get back into the rhythm of things. We know that he'll be ready and excited to play."
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