OTTAWA – Ottawa Senators forward Milan Michalek will play in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday.
Michalek will replace forward Zack Smith. Veteran forward Chris Neil, who missed 28 games with a broken thumb, is also available but will not play.
Michalek missed the Senators' final 11 games of the regular season with an upper-body injury. The 30-year-old was playing some of his best hockey when he was injured in a collision with Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Eric Brewer on March 21.
"I felt good. I was confident," Michalek said. "Unfortunately, I got hurt. Hopefully I can get back to [the way I was playing] as soon as possible.
"I feel good. Everything is good. I feel 100 percent. It was a good practice. The guys are doing great and got in the playoffs. It was an unbelievable run. I just want to try and come in and do the same job, work hard, work hard for each other."
"He has been a real good player for us in the last while," Senators coach Dave Cameron said. "We really missed him when he was out. It's nice to get him back."
Michalek gives Cameron more options when it comes to the makeup of his first two lines. Michalek had been playing on the Senators top line with Kyle Turris and Mark Stone when he was injured. He moved into that spot when left wing Clarke MacArthur sustained a concussion Feb. 16 and missed 18 games.
Cameron has the option of using Michalek with center Mika Zibanejad and wing Bobby Ryan, who has been struggling, on the second line. He was using Smith and rookie Mike Hoffman in that spot with mixed results. Though Hoffman led the Senators with 27 goals this season, his play away from the puck caused Cameron to shuffle him down to the fourth line at times with veteran center David Legwand and wing Alex Chiasson.
Michalek said he would look forward to the chance to play with Zibanejad and Ryan.
"Hopefully I can get some confidence back with those guys," he said. "I'm sure it's going to be tough [coming back], especially in the playoffs. It's going to be a higher pace, too. Hopefully I get into it pretty soon."
Cameron said it would be difficult for Neil to return to start the playoffs after all the time he missed.
"I said all along that injuries are really tough to come back from because you get caught up in the speed," Cameron said. "The later in the year that you get hurt, the quicker the game is and the harder it is to come back. Chris has put in the work. He's always put in the work. He's a fitness guy. If we feel we need him, we'll use him."