In addition to Alex Ovechkin saying he’s ready to play, the Caps also are expected to get top defenseman Mike Green back from a three-game suspension tonight against the Jets, who are approaching the contest as a “must-win.”
“These are games that define your team,” Winnipeg winger Evander Kane told reporters, “and we’re going to see what we’re made of.”
With 12 games remaining, the Jets are in 10th place in the Eastern Conference, four points behind the eighth-place Caps and a point behind the ninth-place Sabres. A week from today, the Caps will host the Jets at Verizon Center.
“I keep saying for the last three of four weeks it’s been playoff hockey,” Capitals Coach Dale Hunter said. “It’s exciting for the fans and the media. The players know what’s at stake here. Everybody wants to play in the big game. As a kid growing up you always scored the winning goal in the Stanley Cup final in the seventh game. So it’s like one of those games.”
Asked if he considered the game to be “season-defining”, center Brooks Laich said: “That’s very strong. But with a win here, we can really put ourselves in good position. So, it’s a very big hockey game for those reasons.”
That said, it was interesting that that the Caps’ collective mood seemed about as light as it’s been all season. John Erskine pretended to pick a fight with Laich during the skate. In the locker room afterward, Troy Brouwer commandeered a reporter’s tape recorder and interviewed Green.
“When you’re winning, everybody feels good, and you’re happy,” Laich said. “But you can’t be complacent. If guys were loose, hopefully that’s what they needed.”
Tomas Vokoun, meantime, came off the ice first, which means he’ll get the start over Michal Neuvirth. It will be Vokoun’s first action since beating the Bruins, 4-3, in Boston last Saturday. Vokoun told reporters that he’s been battling a nagging injury.
The rest of the lineup looked the same as Tuesday’s, with the exception of Green replacing Roman Hamrlik on the blueline. The other scratches figure to be Jeff Halpern and John Erskine, both of whom also stayed on the ice for extra conditioning.
Back in Arlington, meantime, Nicklas Backstrom skated for a fourth straight day, a team spokesman said, again working with strength and conditioning coach Mark Nemish.