Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner is “improving” in his recovery from an undisclosed upper-body injury, Washington Coach Barry Trotz said on Saturday. Alzner has been skating for the past three days, and on Friday, he participated in the morning skate with his teammates, indicating that he’s nearing a return to the lineup. Washington has a three-games-to-two lead in its first-round series against Toronto.

With Alzner out for the past three games, Nate Schmidt has played, and his speed has been well-suited for this series against the slick-skating Maple Leafs. Schmidt has two assists, and he’s leading the team with a plus-four. It seems unlikely he’d be yanked out of the lineup at this point, so that leaves the Capitals with a tricky decision: Which blue-liner should sit to make room for Alzner?

When Alzner was playing, he was on a top pairing with John Carlson, tasked with shutting down other teams’ best players. He also brought value on the penalty kill, and he leads the team in blocked shots.

Washington could avoid benching any defensemen by playing seven of them, something Trotz said he would consider. The Capitals’ 12th forward, Brett Connolly, has scarcely seen the ice in the past two games, and Trotz could supplant him with Alzner once he’s healthy. In Game 4, Connolly was bumped down the lineup from the third line to the fourth and played less than five minutes. On Friday night, Connolly’s ice time was 6:12 — lowest of any skater in the game — in part because he isn’t on any special teams.

Closing the series out

Toronto Coach Mike Babcock seemed awfully confident his team would tie the series in Game 6 on Sunday and he’d be back at Verizon Center for a Game 7, even reportedly expressing that to arena staff as he left the building after Friday night’s 2-1 Capitals win.

He also told media that.

“We want to be right here, in overtime, in Game 7,” Babcock said on Friday night. “I think it’s a good series, it’s a lot of fun so let’s just keep enjoying ourselves and let’s go into Toronto and let’s play right.”

On a conference call with reporters on Saturday afternoon, Trotz had a different resolution in mind.

“The fourth game is always the toughest game (to win),” he said. “They are going to come with their absolute best, and we’re going to have to come with our absolute best game. You get an opportunity to push someone off a cliff, you need to push them off if you can. The difference is we’ve got a little bit of wiggle room. They don’t.”

Tom Wilson’s penalty punishment

Capitals forward Tom Wilson was benched by Trotz at the end of Game 5 after his fourth minor penalty of the game. Don’t expect that to carry over to Sunday night’s game. Wilson has three goals in the series, and he has been playing on a third line with center Lars Eller and winger Andre Burakovsky.

“One thing that we do is we communicate with our coaches and myself and Tom, we have a good relationship,” Trotz said. “We’ll tighten Tom up and get him in the right frame of mind, and he’ll be good to go tomorrow.”