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Laich skates, still no timetable for return

by Tal Pinchevsky

NEW YORK -- After being limited to nine games this season and dealing with an aggravation of an injury that held him out of the first two months of the 2012-13 season, Brooks Laich's first practice in over a month didn't get off to a smooth start.

The Washington Capitals forward, who hasn't played since April 4, lost an edge and stumbled into the boards at the beginning of the team's morning skate prior to Game 4 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against the New York Rangers, which the Capitals lead 2-1.

Laich and his teammates got a nice chuckle out of the fall.

"That was the first contact I've taken in a while. It felt good to get into that," Laich said following the skate. "It was a bit of a wake-up call, maybe. The guys had a good laugh at it. I had a good laugh at it too."

Laich skated on a forward unit with Wojtek Wolski and Aaron Volpatti, but confirmed he would not be back in the lineup for Game 4 at Madison Square Garden (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN, RDS2). As such, the Capitals will stick with the lineup that lost 4-3 to New York on Tuesday in Game 3. Though there is no timetable for Laich's return to the Washington lineup, his teammates were pleased to see the veteran back on the ice.

"Besides his first shot and tight turn, when he fell and ate it into the boards, he looked good," defenseman Karl Alzner said. "[Laich] doesn't need much time to get back into the swing of things. He looked good. It was nice to see him out there."

The injury, which has been reported through much of the season as being a groin injury, forced the 29-year-old to sit out most of the season before returning March 19. But after missing four games in the previous five seasons, Laich aggravated the injury after totaling a goal and four points in nine games. Laich recently was reported to have undergone hernia surgery, a claim he dismissed Wednesday.

"There's been a lot of speculation. The reports aren't entirely accurate. I didn't have a sports hernia surgery. I don't want to focus on that right now," said Laich, who admitted he would prefer to bide his time before returning rather than risk aggravating the injury again. "I had a game in mind for this series that I had circled. I said I wasn't going to do it before because it creates frustration when you don't make that timeline. I did it again and it doesn't look like I'm going to hit it. I've got to stop doing that."

Here is Washington's projected lineup for Game 4:

Marcus Johansson - Nicklas Backstrom - Alex Ovechkin

Martin Erat - Mike Ribeiro - Troy Brouwer

Jason Chimera - Mathieu Perreault - Eric Fehr

Matt Hendricks - Jay Beagle - Joel Ward

Karl Alzner - Mike Green

John Erskine - John Carlson

Jack Hillen - Steve Oleksy

Braden Holtby

Michal Neuvirth

Scratched: Jeff Schultz, Wojtek Wolski, Aaron Volpatti

Injured: Brooks Laich (groin), Tom Poti (upper body)

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