The Capitals had five full days between the last day of their first round series and Game 1 against Tampa Bay, but that layoff didn’t prohibit more injuries from piling up on the blueline. Washington’s defensive depth was already depleted given the absence of Tom Poti and Dennis Wideman, but then John Carlson and Mike Green were injured in Games 1 and 2, respectively, against the Lightning.
That strain, General Manager George McPhee said, didn’t do Washington any favors in the second round.
“I thought we had sort of an imbalance on the blue line,” McPhee said on Thursday. “What you really want to have are puck movers. They keep you out of trouble in your own end. They get the puck to your forwards to create more offense, to get more pucks on net, and the only two we had in the lineup were Carlson and Green that generate that offense, and the first three games, both of them didn’t finish one game.”
McPhee went on to say that Carlson, who suffered a hip pointer that caused the muscles in his ribs and back to seize up, played hurt the entire series against Tampa Bay. Green, who missed Game 4, suffered a hip flexor injury in Game 2 and tried to play in Game 3 but was unable to finish that contest and could barely walk afterward.
Although Wideman was still rehabilitating his leg after suffering a hematoma at the end of the regular season, McPhee said the trade-deadline acquisition wanted to play in the Lightning series but wasn’t quite ready.
Green, Carlson and Wideman are all right-handed shots who excel at the type of puck movement that can be a catalyst for offense. Their absences or physical limitations did make the Capitals a slower moving group on the backend, but at the same time, all teams deal with injuries in the playoffs.
“You can’t use things as excuses,” said Scott Hannan, who averaged the second highest ice time per game (23:37) on the team behind Carlson (24:23) in the playoffs. “Everybody’s played those type of minutes before, everybody’s done those type of things. So you can’t – it’s never easy to have injuries, but every team has to deal with them. It’s the way you get through them.”
Carlson still played significant minutes throughout the playoffs, and the rookie defenseman dismissed the impact of his injury. “It doesn’t really matter, really,” Carlson said when asked how much pain he was in. “I was able to play and I think be effective, so not too much, then.”
Meanwhile, McPhee said Carlson “couldn’t hit people and was trying to avoid hits” and his defensive partner, Karl Alzner, knew at times that the 21-year-old wouldn’t be able to do what he normally did on the ice.
“John, he’s a great skater. He’s a guy that always loves to have the puck and go with it, and there was just a lot of times where we looked at each other when a puck gets dumped in, and I know he’s not gonna be able to go back,” Alzner said. “I was having to go back for a few extra pucks. You just try and help out as much as you can.”
Green said the hip flexor he suffered made it unable to skate or play, but he was hoping to be ready if the Capitals had managed to force one more game. “I think that maybe if we weren’t playing back-to-back, I could have probably played this weekend… but it is what it is now and it’s too late.”