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Andre Burakovsky set for Capitals return

Washington forward to face Lightning on Saturday after missing 15 games with hand injury

by Tom Gulitti @tomgulittinhl / Staff Writer

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Right wing Andre Burakovsky will have the Washington Capitals at full strength when he returns against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena on Saturday (7 p.m. ET; SUN, CSN-DC, NHL.TV).

Burakovsky has been sidelined since injuring his right hand blocking a shot by Brendan Smith during a 6-3 win against the Detroit Red Wings on Feb. 9 and has missed 15 games.

Burakovsky, who has 29 points (11 goals, 18 assists) in 52 games this season, went through a full practice Friday and confirmed afterward he will play against the Lightning.

"I've been feeling pretty good lately," Burakovsky said. "I talked to the doctor and, obviously, it's not 100 percent, but it feels good. My shot is getting better and the doctor said [the hand] can't get worse. If it hurts sometimes when I shoot or whatever, it can't get any worse. So I want to get back in. I'm hungry, I've been out for a while now and I can't wait to get back in. I'm excited."

To make room under the NHL salary cap to activate Burakovsky from long-term injured reserve, the Capitals returned forward Jakub Vrana to Hershey of the American Hockey League. Burakovsky will return to his spot on the third line with Brett Connolly and Lars Eller.

Video: WSH@STL: Burakovsky sneaks opening goal through Allen

Burakovsky said he expects it will take time for the line to rekindle its chemistry.

"They've been playing with Vrana and couple of other guys for a little bit here and I've been out for five weeks or whatever, so it's going to be a little bit new for me too coming in and playing," Burakovsky said. "But I'm going to come back quick. Today I felt really good. I've been working hard with [strength and conditioning coach Mark Nemish] and doing a lot of exercises and hard skating, so I'm in really good shape. I'm ready to go."

The Capitals have been relatively fortunate with injuries this season. Washington players have missed 42 games because of injury or illness.

"I'm happy to see him back," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. "Nothing against Jake or anything, but you want to see Andre back."

The Capitals have lost five of their past six games (1-4-1) and are 6-6-2 in 14 games since their five-day break. With 12 regular-season games remaining, they hold a two-point lead over the Columbus Blue Jackets for first place in the Metropolitan Division, Eastern Conference and NHL standings.

Video: WSH@PIT: Burakovsky buries one-timer past Murray

Burakovsky had 19 points (nine goals, 10 assists) in his last 25 games after getting 10 (two goals, eight assists) in his first 27. 

"I think it makes the whole team better," Eller said of Burakovsky's return. "When [Burakovsky] is really good, he makes the team better, so we're glad to have him back."

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