John Erskine playing after 'long road' back

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John Erskine gave a gap-toothed smile and everyone knew it for sure. The big defenseman will be back in the Capitals lineup Tuesday night against the Anaheim Ducks, making his season debut.

It’s his first game action of any kind since early May, the final game of the Caps’ series against the Tampa Bay Lightning after he underwent surgery on his injured left shoulder.

“It’s kind of been a long road and it’s good to be back tonight,” Erskine said.

Erskine had said Monday he was seeing the doctor later, and apparently got the all clear well enough to replace Sean Collins, who Tuesday morning was sent back to the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League.

“We’ve been waiting a while to get him back, coach Bruce Boudreau said. “I hope there’s not too much rust on him. I’m sure there’s going to be some, but hopefully it’s not too much.”

Boudreau noted he would have to manage Erskine’s minutes, but the defenseman said he’s eager to get used to the pace of the game – and put some hits on guys.

“It’s definitely part of my game, and I’m not going to change it just because of injury,” he said. “I think that’s what kind of held me out is I didn’t feel comfortable going in and I didn’t think the strength was there.

“I feel comfortable now; my confidence is there. I can’t go in second-guessing myself – I’ll get hurt again.”

The Caps aren’t worried about Erskine not being physical enough vs. Anaheim.

“I don’t think the contact has ever bothered him. He’s really a competitive guy,” Boudreau said. “I’m sure the adrenaline will be going pretty good for him.”

Erskine admitted he did learn a lesson during his months of rehab, which started with range of motion exercises and continued to strength-building workouts. When the Caps went on their road trip to Western Canada, he was left back at Kettler to work out with strength and conditioning coach Mark Nemish.

The lesson is simple.

“Try not to get hurt,” Erskine said. “Because it sucks getting skated out there every day.”

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