Capitals at Hurricanes: Will John Erskine return?

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RALEIGH, N.C. | After a day off, the Washington Capitals went back to work with Tuesday’s morning skate at PNC Arena in preparation for their game against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Tied with Carolina with 34 points, three back of the final Eastern Conference playoff spot and four back of first in the Southeast Division, it’s hard to overstate the importance of this one.

Every game’s important: Carolina, division team, obviously a team we’ve got to beat to get in the playoffs,” coach Adam Oates said. “You know, must win.”

With 13 games to go, just about everything can be considered a “must-win.” The Hurricanes lost Monday night at the Montreal Canadiens, as ex-Caps forward Jeff Halpern scored the game-winner.

The Caps can pass the Hurricanes in the standings by beating them in any fashion Tuesday night. A victory would again put them one point back of eighth place.

Defenseman John Erskine is considered a “game-time decision,” according to Oates. Erskine said he’d see how he feels later.

“We’ll decide later today. I’ve got to talk with trainers and coaches,” Erskine said. “I’m going to go along the rest of the day like I’m ready to play.”

Oates said it wasn’t a roster decision but more about how Erskine felt. The 32-year-old has missed the past 12 games with an upper-body injury.

“I think I’m physically good to go,” he said. “A couple hard practices there and I had to see how I recovered.”

If Erskine is able to play, he will replace a left-handed defenseman, either Jeff Schultz or Jack Hillen. Oates likes having a lefty and right on each pairing.

Braden Holtby will make his ninth straight start in goal. Oates said Holtby was “OK” in Sunday night’s 5-4 overtime loss to the Philadelphia Flyers.

Up front the lines remain the same, which means Aaron Volpatti will play his second straight and Wojtek Wolski is the healthy-scratch forward.

Tuesday morning the Caps made a minor league trade, re-acquiring enforcer Joel Rechlicz for grinder Matt Clakson. “The Recker” played three games under Dale Hunter last season and is best know for being “physical.”

Here’s a look at Tuesday night’s projected lineup against the Hurricanes:

Marcus Johansson – Nicklas Backstrom – Alex Ovechkin

Brooks Laich – Mike Ribeiro – Troy Brouwer

Jason Chimera – Mathieu Perreault – Joel Ward

Aaron Volpatti – Matt Hendricks – Jay Beagle

Karl Alzner – Mike Green

Jack Hillen/John Erskine – John Carlson

Jeff Schultz/John Erskine – Steve Oleksy

Braden Holtby

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