The Ottawa Senators will get a major boost in their final push for a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, with the return of Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Erik Karlsson.
Karlsson told reporters after Ottawa's morning skate at Verizon Center he will play Thursday night against the Washington Capitals. Karlsson was expected to miss 4-6 months after surgery Feb. 14 to repair a 70-percent laceration to the Achilles tendon in his left foot.
If he does play Thursday against Washington (7 p.m. ET), it will be 10 weeks to the day of the injury.
Karlsson skated a regular shift alongside defense partner Marc Methot at practice Wednesday.
"I have no concerns," Senators coach Paul MacLean said Wednesday when asked if Karlsson was coming back too soon. "If he says he's ready to play, then he's ready to play. He's done the work.
"I think he's closer [to returning] but I don't know. There's always a chance. He practiced in a regular turn [Wednesday], so that's another step in the process. We'll see where it goes [Thursday]."
Karlsson, who led NHL defensemen in scoring last season with 78 points en route to winning his first Norris, had six goals and four assists in 14 games when he was hurt during a game Feb. 13 against the Pittsburgh Penguins, when Penguins forward Matt Cooke stepped on the back of his leg.
The Senators are 4-6-0 in their past 10 games and have slipped to seventh in the Eastern Conference, but they're tied in points with the eighth-place New York Rangers, one point ahead of the Winnipeg Jets. The Senators also have struggled offensively, scoring just 20 goals in those 10 games.
"Having him at practice the last week has helped the energy level at practices," MacLean said. "He's an infectious personality, I think. It's helped the tempo of our practices, so that could help the tempo of our game as well."
Karlsson was cleared for contact last week, and the team has left it up to him to let them know when he feels comfortable returning to the lineup.
"He's making the trip, which is another step in the process," MacLean said. "Whether he deems himself ready to play, [Wednesday] was another good day. His conditioning level continues to get better, up to game speed. I thought he practiced well today. We'll let him ponder overnight and have a pregame skate [Thursday] and it'll be another day. Is there's a possibility there? We've left that window open where if he feels confident that it's time for him to play, he'll play."