John Carlson was a mainstay for the Capitals during the regular season. In fact, the rookie defenseman was one of just three players to appear in all 82 games.
So theres no way Carlson was going to let some soreness knock him out of a playoff game, as he returned to the lineup for Sunday nights Game 2 against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Carlson had left Fridays Game 1 with an undisclosed injury.
"Theres no choice here now. Unless he cant skate, hes going to play," defenseman Mike Green said. "Hes a tough kid."
Also on the ice was veteran right wing Mike Knuble, who was in the lineup for the first time since being injured April 17 in the first round against the New York Rangers.
Carlsons value to the Caps is substantial and quantifiable. Of all defensemen who played the whole season in Washington, he had the most points (37) and is a key cog not only as a power-play point man but also a shutdown guy with defense partner Karl Alzner.
"Hes very important for us. Power play and he plays against top lines all the time, him and Alzie," left wing Alex Ovechkin said. "Those two guys are very important for us."
Carlsons presence in the Caps lineup - and his absence - affects Alzner and Green more than anyone else. Alzner and Carlson developed into the top defensive pairing and are often on the ice against the best an opponent can throw out there.
When the 21-year-old missed most of the third period Friday, the Caps were forced to rotate five defensemen, knocking Alzner off his normal rhythm.
"He benefits the team tremendously offensively and defensively and he benefits me a lot," Alzner said. "I wouldn't be able to play as good as I have played in certain games without him, because he's a big key to my success as well."
Green also had to shoulder an extra load as the Caps' only offensive defenseman available and admitted he was tired and not at his best. Carlson takes shifts on the power play to spare Green of some ice time, too.
"He can log up a lot of minutes and it's a fast-paced game in the playoffs and it's tough to play a lot of minutes," Green said. "So it's nice to have him back."
Carlson never wanted to miss significant time in Game 2, either, saying he probably could have played but that it was a "coach's decision" to hold him out. The Caps obviously could have used him, but coach Bruce Boudreau termed Carlson "sore" and unavailable that night.
Carlson did remain in the lineup for a handful of games very early in the regular season despite sporting a bruise on his leg from blocking a shot. He was hobbling around but was always in the lineup.
"He's a warrior," Alzner said, "so it's a nice thing that he's gonna battle through whatever he can battle through."
Of course, this is the playoffs, where injuries seem to heal much quicker, so it's not too much of a surprise to see Carlson back.
"It's an exciting time of the year," Carlson said. "And everyone wants to go all the time."
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.