Capitals forward Joel Ward hit the ice for a third straight day and appears to be on target to return from a left knee contusion when the playoffs begin on Tuesday or Wednesday.
“I think today might have been my best day so far,” Ward said after taking part in a full practice on Friday, the Caps’ final practice of the regular season.
“It felt good. I got a chance to get in a few stops and starts that gave me trouble in the past. It’s moving along. I’ve got some more cranking out to do but other than that a positive day.”
Ward has not played since blocking a shot by Tampa’s Sami Salo late in the Caps’ 4-2 win over the Lightning on April 7. When he left the lineup he was playing on a third line with center Mathieu Perreault and left wing Jason Chimera and had eight goals, 12 assists and was a plus-7 in 39 games.
Capitals coach Adam Oates said the 6-foot-1, 226-pounder can be an integral player in a playoff series.
“He’s a big body and reliable down the boards,” Oates said. “That third line was playing very good hockey for us, and he adds to our depth.”
During Ward’s eight-game absence, right wing Eric Fehr [8 goals, 8 assists, team-high plus-14] has taken his spot on the third line. When Ward returns, Oates likely would drop Fehr to a fourth line with Matt Hendricks and Jay Beagle, in place of Aaron Volpatti.
Holtby back in: Goaltender Braden Holtby will return to the nets Saturday night when the Capitals close out their regular season against the Bruins at VerizonCenter. After the Capitals clinched the Southeast title on Tuesday Oates said he gave Holtby the option of playing Thursday night against Ottawa or Saturday night against the Bruins.
“I don’t think there’s any perfect formula,” Oates said, “but it makes sense for him to play Saturday and then Tuesday or Wednesday [in Game 1] to keep him in rhythm.”
With Thursday night’s 2-1 loss, Michal Neuvirth finished his regular season with a 4-5-2 record, a 2.74 GAA and .910 save percentage. He will be a restricted free agent at the end of this season.
By the numbers: The Caps are a collective 3-8-1 against the four opponents they could face in the first round of the playoffs. They are 0-2-1 against Ottawa; 1-2-0 against Toronto; 1-2-0 against the Islanders; and 1-2-0 against the Rangers. If the Islanders lose in Buffalo tonight they cannot face the Caps in Round 1.
“All four teams we could possibly face, they’re all good hockey teams and they’re all difficult in their own sense to play against,” Caps right wing Troy Brouwer said. “There’s going to be no easy matchups; it doesn’t matter what seed they are. We may have a few teams we maybe prefer to play because of success we’ve had against them, but once you get to the playoffs there’s no easy games.”
The Caps are scheduled to open their first-round series at home on Tuesday unless they face the Senators in which case they’ll begin on Wednesday to allow the Senators ample time to recover from Sunday’s game in Boston, which was postponed due to the Boston Marathon bombings.
Baltimore Classic: The Capitals will face the Boston Bruins in the second Baltimore Hockey Classic on Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2013, at 7 p.m. at 1st Mariner Arena in Baltimore, Capitals general manager George McPhee, 1st Mariner Arena/SMG general manager Frank Remesch and president of the Baltimore City Council Bernard C. “Jack” Young announced today.
“Baltimore is a great hockey market with a long hockey tradition, and we are excited to make our return to 1st Mariner Arena next season,” said Capitals president Dick Patrick.
Bear sighting: The Hershey Bears will open the 2013 Calder Cup playoffs tonight in Providence against the Providence Bruins. Hershey is the eighth seed while Providence enters the best-of-seven series as the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
Still going: Capitals prospects Tom Wilson and Connor Carrick of the Plymouth Whalers will play in Game 5 of the OHL Western Conference final tonight at 7 p.m. in London, Ontario.
Wilson, the OHL Player of the Week, has six goals, one assist and eight penalty minutes in his last three playoff games while Carrick currently leads all OHL defensemen in playoff points [2-15-17 points] and is tied for the league lead in plus/minus (plus-15).
Plymouth trails Dale Hunter’s London Knights 3-1 in the best-of-seven series. If the Whalers lose, the Capitals could invite Wilson and Carrick to join them for the playoffs.