Capitals right wing Joel Ward practiced on a fourth line on Monday and said he’s making strides toward returning to the lineup, possibly on Thursday night in the playoff opener against the New York Rangers at VerizonCenter.
Ward missed the final nine games of the regular season with a left knee contusion suffered when he blocked a shot by Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Sami Salo on April 7.
“I still think he needs practice,” Caps coach Adam Oates said Monday after putting his tram through its first of three straight practices before getting the playoffs underway. “I don’t want to put him in without getting any time on the ice. I think it’s been too long. A couple practices will sure help.”
Oates also brought some clarity to Brooks Laich’s injury status, confirming he underwent sports hernia surgery in mid-April to resolve groin issues that limited him to nine games this season.
“I think it’s probably good for him,” Oates said. “You know what? The Knute Rockne doesn’t work. Your body was letting you down. We finally made a decision and now it’s time to move forward. It’s probably clear in his mind now. The unknown’s tough.”
Laich has not skated since leaving the Capitals’ April 4 game against the Islanders. The normal recovery period for sports hernia surgery is 4 to 6 weeks, which would mean Laich’s return could come early in the second round of the playoffs.
“He’s healing,” Oates said. “He’s on the road to recovery right now and as soon as he can recover we’ll get him in.”
Oates said he has no timetable for when Laich will resume skating.
“As soon as possible,” he said. “You know how he is. He’s trying as hard as he can to get there and we just have to be careful.”
Ovechkin named April’s First Star: Alex Ovechkin was named the NHL’s First Star for the month of April on Monday. He led all NHL players with 14 goals and 22 points in 13 games and finished as the NHL’s leading goal scorer for the third time in his career with 32 goals.
Ovechkin addressed reporters on Monday wearing a T-shirt that read: “I will step on you to win.”
Ovechkin said he expects the series against the Rangers, the fourth meeting between the two teams in five years, is going to be “tough” and “fun.”
“We know each other well since the first time we meet them in the playoffs,” he said. “It’s not going to be easy.”
Asked if he learned anything from last year’s playoffs that he can apply to this post-season, Ovechkin smiled.
“Last year I learned how to block shots,” he said. “I’m going to keep it and do that this year, too. ... The playoffs are most important. We have to show our best out there.”