The Ottawa Senators could get a major boost in their playoff push with the possible return of Erik Karlsson to the lineup on Thursday in Washington.
The reigning Norris Trophy winner participated in the Senators’ full team practice Wednesday and will travel with the team for their key showdown with the Capitals. An Ottawa victory at the Verizon Center would clinch a playoff spot for the Senators.
“Obviously, I’m taking the trip with the team and it’s been a while, but by no means has a decision been made,” Karlsson said Wednesday. “We’re going to see how it feels. There’s a chance — but it’s slim.”
Head coach Paul MacLean made it clear that the decision on whether or not Karlsson plays rests in the defenceman’s hands.
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"He practised well (Wednesday) and we'll let him have it overnight. Is there a possibility there? I think he's left that window open and we've left that window open," said MacLean. "If he feels confident that it's time for him to play, then he'll play. Would that be (Thursday) night, Friday or Saturday? Those are the three opportunities he has right now."
This is the first time the Senators have not ruled out the potential of Karlsson playing in a game. But Karlsson indicated he's still not completely comfortable with his left leg, admitting that it still feels slightly awkward when he puts his skates on.
"It doesn't feel normal. For me, it's all about getting ice time in and trying to skate as much as I can to try and get that feeling back in my foot," said Karlsson. "All those quick feet stuff you do during a game when you don't think, I don't want to come into a situation where I can hurt myself and I don't want to be a liability for the team either. I want to feel like I can contribute."
Karlsson's imminent return is stunning, considering he suffered a 70 per cent tear of his Achilles tendon just 70 days ago -- in a Feb. 13 game at Pittsburgh. Most conservative estimates figured Karlsson wouldn't be ready to return for at least four months after the injury, but last week general manager Bryan Murray indicated that he had been 100 per cent cleared to return to game action.
Karlsson reiterated that he cannot do any further damage to the Achilles tendon by returning this week.
"It's pretty safe to say I probably won't tear it again unless I get cut again -- which I hope won't happen," explained Karlsson. "If I can't do the footwork properly, I might fall or put myself in a situation where I might hurt something else and I don't want to do that either."
Karlsson should help breathe life into a struggling Sens’ power play that has scored just once in their last 17 opportunities and ranks 20th in the league.
"It's new life, what do you say? He's the Norris Trophy winner and he's arguably the best defenceman in the world," said Marc Methot. "If you can get him at 100 per cent -- or close to it -- it will change the face of our hockey club. Having his presence on the power play will be a refreshing change."
"It's fun to have him around. We all know what kind of player he is, but he also brings a joy and enthusiasm to the locker room so it's much welcomed at this time of year," added captain Daniel Alfredsson.