TORONTO, DEC. 27 -- Rod Langway's surprise return to the Washington Capitals' lineup Saturday against Philadelphia came almost immediately after he received medical clearance to play.

"I wanted to get back a week ago, but the doctors wouldn't let me," Langway said. "I stayed home from the Quebec-Montreal trip, skated and had more therapy, and waited to see what the doctors would say.

"When they told me Saturday at 6 that I could play if I wanted to try it, I figured it was a good place to come back, a great team to throw yourself into.

"{Coach} Bryan {Murray} said if I could give him seven or eight minutes against Philly I could help the team. I could lend support, move the puck out of the zone, give Scotty {Stevens} a little relief and keep him fresh."

Langway played 12 minutes in his first game action since suffering a ruptured disk in his back Nov. 25. His appearance provided the team with an emotional lift and when he first stepped on the ice, he received tremendous applause from the sellout crowd of 18,130.

"It was great to hear the fans," Langway said. "And for the first time, I thought it went all right. I did take a penalty in the second period when I got caught out on a long shift.

"The wind's not there. I'm just not in hockey shape. I can't come right back after a shift. As for the back, I can feel it, but it's a consistent thing and it's hard to say how it will affect me.

"It wasn't stiff this morning and it feels a lot better than it did a couple of weeks ago. I feel better, too, just getting back in there."

Today Langway went through a full practice without apparent difficulty, although in the past he has done a good job of hiding discomfort.

Murray was delighted to get Langway back, after a 14-game absence.

"All I was worried about was his health," Murray said. "The doctors said that was not a factor, so there was no real decision to be made. Having Rod Langway dressed and with his leadership in the room, it certainly was a good game for him to be present for.

"We talked about how he felt, how much he thought he could play. Since the tests proved he was ready to come back, I thought, 'Why wait another day?' If he's not going to get hurt, then the earlier we get him in, the sooner he'll get his game legs. No matter when he got back in, he'd be facing the same thing. Now in Toronto he should be that much farther ahead."

As Langway came off the injury list, goaltender Pete Peeters was going on. He pulled a muscle in his right thigh stretching for a first-period shot by Philadelphia's Rick Tocchet and was replaced by Clint Malarchuk at the start of the second period.

Peeters did not practice today, although he received treatment at Mount Vernon. There was no indication when he might be able to play again.

"It's sore, but not too bad," Peeters said.