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Islanders' Grabovski returning to lineup for Game 5

by Ben Raby /

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- New York Islanders forward Mikhail Grabovski has been activated from injured reserve and will make his 2015 postseason debut Thursday in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference First Round against the Washington Capitals (7 p.m. ET, CNBC, SN, TVA Sports 2, MSG+, CSN-DC). The best-of-7 series is tied 2-2.

Grabovski has not played since sustaining a concussion during a game Feb. 19 against the Nashville Predators. The injury sidelined him for the final 23 games of the regular season and the first four games of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Grabovski, in his first season with the Islanders, had nine goals and 19 points in 51 games.

"I'm pretty excited, 100 percent," Grabovski said. "It's been a long time without playing so I have to figure out what I do best on the ice and figure it out as soon as possible. But I'm excited to just play. … The [Stanley Cup] Playoffs for sure are more important than regular games so I'm a little bit nervous. But I think everything will be well if I start working hard."

Islanders coach Jack Capuano said Grabovski had targeted an earlier return but the team went with a cautious approach given the severity of the injury.

"He was itching to get back in there," Capuano said. "But at the time we have decisions to make as a staff and as an organization. Right now he's ready, he wants to get in there and he's going to get that opportunity.

"He brings some speed and deception to his game. He can back off the opposition with his speed. … That's what I think he can bring to the table for us."

Given the physical nature of the series -- the Capitals have 186 hits in the series, second in the League -- Grabovski was asked if he was concerned with how his body may respond to the physicality after being out for more than two months.

"I'll try to hit them first," he said. "But it's a hockey game so nobody is really protected from hits. I saw what happened to [Islanders defenseman Lubomir] Visnovsky. It's a hard hit but it's going to happen for everybody. For me, I just have to be ready, keep my head up and make the first hit."

Visnovsky was injured early in the second period of Game 4 after he was hit by Capitals forward Tom Wilson. Visnovsky will not play in Game 5; rookies Griffin Reinhart or Ryan Pulock are expected to take his spot in the lineup.

Reinhart, 21, and Pulock, 20, are expected to take part in the pregame warm-up.

"Ever since I came up I've been waiting for the opportunity," said Reinhart, who played eight games with the Islanders earlier this season but spent much of 2014-15 with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers of the American Hockey League.

"It's unfortunate that it had to happen like this, but whether I get to play tonight or another time in this series I'm really excited and I think I'm ready for it."

Capuano said that the 6-foot-4, 217-pound Reinhart could be an appropriate fit to control Washington's forwards.

"He's got size and reach if he gets in there and that's something that obviously we're looking for against a big team like Washington," Capuano said. "He's got tremendous hockey sense; he's played in the Memorial Cup. … If it is him I expect that he'll go out there and move the puck and have a good, active stick and do the job."

Capuano said Pulock, who had 17 goals and 29 points in 54 games with Bridgeport this season, could be better suited to replace Visnovsky on the Islanders' power play which has gone 0-for-10 in the series. Pulock, the 15th pick of the 2013 NHL Draft, has yet to play in the NHL.

Here are the projected lineups:


Nikolay Kulemin - John Tavares - Ryan Strome

Josh Bailey - Frans Nielsen - Kyle Okposo

Anders Lee - Mikhail Grabovski - Tyler Kennedy

Matt Martin - Casey Cizikas - Cal Clutterbuck

Nick Leddy - Johnny Boychuk

Calvin de Haan - Brian Strait

Thomas Hickey - Griffin Reinhart

Jaroslav Halak

Michal Neuvirth

Scratched: Michael Grabner, Colin McDonald, Eric Boulton, Matt Donovan, Ryan Pulock

Injured: Travis Hamonic (undisclosed), Lubomir Visnovsky (undisclosed)


Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Joel Ward

Marcus Johansson - Nicklas Backstrom - Jason Chimera

Andre Burakovsky - Jay Beagle - Troy Brouwer

Brooks Laich - Michael Latta - Tom Wilson

Brooks Orpik - John Carlson

Matt Niskanen - Karl Alzner

Mike Green - Tim Gleason

Braden Holtby

Philipp Grubauer

Scratched: Curtis Glencross, Justin Peters

Injured: Dmitry Orlov (wrist), John Erskine (neck surgery), Eric Fehr (upper body)

Status report: Nelson stayed out for extra work after the Islanders' morning skate and could be a healthy scratch for Game 5. He had 20 goals and 42 points in 82 games during the regular season, and two goals in New York's 4-1 win in Game 1.

Who's hot: Halak made 52 saves on 55 shots combined in Games 3 and 4 in New York. … The Islanders' fourth line of Martin, Cizikas and Clutterbuck combined for one goal, six shots on goal and 20 hits in Game 4.

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