|Senators forward Alex Kovalev faces up to four months of rehab after suffering a torn ACL in his left knee during Thursday's loss to the Lightning in Tampa, Fla. He'll have surgery in two weeks (Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).
Just hours before a night of planned celebration, the Ottawa Senators learned their playoff hopes have been dealt a major blow.
General manager Bryan Murray confirmed earlier today that Alex Kovalev, the Senators' key free-agent acquisition last summer, has suffered a torn ACL in his left knee that will require season-ending surgery. The veteran forward suffered the injury during Thursday's road loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night. Medical tests done on Friday revealed the extent of the damage.
"(Kovalev) has a completely torn ACL and a deep bone bruise, which has caused him a fair amount of pain," a glum Murray told reporters earlier today. "He will have surgery in probably two weeks and certainly this year is over. The normal rehab, they tell me is, 3½ to four months. That’s pretty much the playoff story for him at this point in time.
"He's one of the guys that, at playoff time, we hoped and thought would be a big factor for us. To lose him in the second-last game of the year in a game that didn’t really mean very much is disappointing for us as an organization and certainly for Alex."
The 37-year-old Kovalev, who still has one year remaining on the two-year contract he signed with the Senators last July, faces a challenging recovery period. But Murray stopped short of suggesting the injury could be career threatening.
"It’s a big project when you have ACL repair and then have roughly four months of rehab," said Murray. "People come back and play, but it’s a hard project and as you get (later) in your career, it’s more difficult. He will recover, but it’ll be a big project for him going forward.
With 49 points, including 18 goals, in 77 games this season, Kovalev was the Senators' fourth leading scorer behind captain Daniel Alfredsson
, Jason Spezza
and Mike Fisher. He was also a regular on the Senators' first power-play unit.
"It's tough, (happening) in the second-last game of the year when it doesn't really mean anything," said Alfredsson, whose 1,000-game milestone will be honoured with a pre-game ceremony before tonight's matchup with the Buffalo Sabres at Scotiabank Place (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200). "But we can't do anything about it. He's obviously frustrated himself and it's a tough blow.
"We've got Milan (Michalek) back now (from injury), which will help us. Everybody's just got to pull together a little harder now."
Added Fisher: "It’s very untimely and a big loss for us. It’s just one of those things where you can’t do much about it. But another guy will step in and get a good opportunity to play and we’ve got to make do."
Fisher, in particular, benefited from Kovalev's presence when he enjoyed the hottest offensive start of his career, which spurred on some suggestions that he was a candidate to be chosen for Canada's Olympic team.
"It was an adjustment (for Kovalev), coming to a new team," said Fisher. "He helped me and got me the puck a lot in the right places and he was really good to play with (as a linemate)."
"It just presents opportunities for other guys. Is it the best-case scenario? No. You never want a guy like (Kovalev), especially with that experience going into the playoffs, out of your lineup. But we’ve had to deal with that type of injury all year. We’ve had guys like Alfredsson, Spezza and Michalek (out) … we’ve had a lot of injuries throughout the year and we’ve always responded positively. So at least we’re in familiar territory in that regard." - Cory Clouston
Perhaps understated was Kovalev's positive influence on some of the team's younger forwards.
"Early on, when we were trying to get Peter Regin
to be a good player in this league, Kovalev helped him a great deal," said Murray.
This hasn't exactly been a good news week for the Senators, who earlier veteran defenceman Filip Kuba
is out until the least the second round after undergoing back surgery to repair a herniated disc. Ottawa has summoned forward Zack Smith
and blueliner Brian Lee from its American Hockey League affiliate in Binghamton, N.Y., to help fill the void.
"It just presents opportunities for other guys," said head coach Cory Clouston, who managed to steer the Senators through a huge rash of injuries in January that, at one point, sidelined the team's entire first line. "Is it the best-case scenario? No. You never want a guy like (Kovalev), especially with that experience going into the playoffs, out of your lineup.
"But we’ve had to deal with that type of injury all year. We’ve had guys like Alfredsson, Spezza and Michalek (out) … we’ve had a lot of injuries throughout the year and we’ve always responded positively. So at least we’re in familiar territory in that regard."
Still, Murray admitted the playoff chore just got tougher for the Senators, who'll face either the defending Stanley Cup-champion Pittsburgh Penguins or New Jersey Devils in the first round starting next Wednesday or Thursday.
"Big injuries to important players are difficult to overcome in this league," he said.Around the boards
Clouston hasn't yet set his lineup for tonight's game against the Sabres, saying "there will be a couple of game-time decisions." ... Pascal Leclaire makes his second start in three games in goal ... Tonight's game is a complete sellout ... The Alfredsson pre-game ceremony is being shown in its entirety on CBC's Hockey Night in Canada
. For those outside the Ottawa market, head to CBCSports.ca for a live stream of the telecast ... With the Penguins and Devils both playing twice this weekend, it might take until Sunday night to determine the Senators' first-round playoff opponent. Pittsburgh is at the Atlanta Thrashers tonight and at the New York Islanders on Sunday, while the Devils are home to the Isles tonight and the Sabres on Sunday.