Injuries Force Caps to Shuffle On Defense

The Washington Capitals, who had an NHL-worst 6-14-1 record on Nov. 22, rally to win their final seven games, capturing the Southeast Division championship and the third seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
By Dan Steinberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Washington Capitals conducted their first full-squad practice of the postseason yesterday without injured defensemen Shaone Morrisonn and Jeff Schultz, although both players skated later in the morning and said they would attempt to join their teammates today.

Morrisonn suffered what the team is calling an "upper body injury" last Tuesday against Carolina and missed the Capitals' final two regular season games, including Saturday's division-clinching win over Florida. Schultz left that game because of an undisclosed injury, leaving the team with just five healthy defensemen, including Steve Eminger, who had been the odd man out of the lineup before the latest injury problems. Schultz said he was testing his pain threshold during yesterday's skate and acknowledged he likely wouldn't be able to play if Washington's series began tonight.

The Caps don't open their first-round series with the Philadelphia Flyers until Friday, but with Brian Pothier still sidelined after suffering a concussion in January, prospect Sami Lepisto was recalled from Hershey for the fifth time in two months. The 23-year-old Lepisto, who appeared in seven games with the Capitals this season, drove to Washington Monday night unsure whether he would make his Stanley Cup playoffs debut against the Philadelphia Flyers on Friday night or return to the AHL.

"I'm just here for a couple of practices, and we'll see how the guys feel; just for backup I think," Lepisto said. "I don't know what's going on. It would be thrilling and nice, of course, to play in the playoffs, but we'll see."

Washington Coach Bruce Boudreau was asked whether he might dress seven defensemen, including Lepisto, as a precaution Friday night. "I don't even know if we have seven defensemen," he quipped.

"If they're gonna play, they're gonna be 100 percent," Boudreau said of Morrisonn and Schultz. "We're not gonna put anybody in at 50 percent. There's too many games in too short a period of time that you're gonna need everybody playing. If you end up with 4 1/2 healthy defenseman in Game 1, that's really gonna hurt you in Game 3. . . . I mean, we'll play them if they're healthy and we won't if they're not."

That could open the way for more ice time for Eminger, the fifth-year player who thought he might be traded at February's deadline. Eminger had been a healthy scratch in 12 of 14 games before Morrisonn was hurt, but the team won its final two games with Eminger in the lineup to improve to 14-5-1 when he plays.

Center David Steckel, meantime, returned to practice yesterday for the first time since breaking a finger on his right hand in early March. His finger was still wrapped yesterday, but he said he doesn't notice it on the ice. He's expected to play Friday. Captain Chris Clark also skated and still hopes to return from his months-long groin injury, but his status is uncertain.

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