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Jeff Halpern impresses after long layoff; likely to play again in Game 7
Veteran will replace injured Beagle in the lineup for 2nd straight game
It's very possible, even likely, that Jay Beagle misses Game 7 of the Washington Capitals' second-round series against the New York Rangers. He hasn't skated since Game 5 on Monday, where he sustained an apparent right leg injury.
But as several players said earlier this week, that just opens the door for others to succeed. It opened for Jeff Halpern in Game 6, and the veteran will be counted on to fill part of the void again if Beagle can't go.
Wednesday was Halpern's first game since March 23, but his seamless transition back into action impressed everyone around the Caps.
"I thought he came in and did a great job. He just jumped right into the game and played like he didn't miss a day," alternate captain Mike Knuble said. "He's a veteran guy; you know it's very difficult, but he got his chance and he did well with it. It's got to be pretty satisfying for him in that respect."
Halpern took a double-minor penalty for high-sticking in his first game back, but it didn't wind up hurting the Capitals. He kicked himself for losing some faceoffs at the end of the game, but coach Dale Hunter kept turning to him for important draws.
"He played very well and took big faceoffs. Your timing can be off sitting for seven weeks, but he looked fine and did a good job for us," Hunter said. "You need that, especially on the right side. It's key."
Linemates Knuble and Keith Aucoin marveled a bit at Halpern's ability to come back from such a long layoff without too much rust. But that's easier said than done.
"The most difficult part is not being in the games. No matter what anyone says you don't feel as part of the team," Halpern said Wednesday night. "I think just mentally trying to keep that game intensity around somehow, whether it was three-on-three games with the coaches or just trying to do something. Obviously, there's cycles because there's a wide range of emotions. You hope you catch yourself on the upswing."
Officially, the Caps are calling Beagle day-to-day with a lower-body injury. Hunter reiterated that Friday but would not say whether the injured forward was traveling with the team to New York.
The Caps and Rangers have extra time to think about Game 7 thanks to a two-day break. There are pros and cons to the extra day, but players and Hunter think it's a good thing.
"I'm doing OK. But for most guys, some other others, they've got some hefty bumps and bruises, so they probably could've used the day," right wing Joel Ward said. "It's good for everybody just to kind of go over what we got to do, our game plan, and then get that day to kind of mentally just kind of prepare again."
The Caps and Boston Bruins had the same amount of time before Game 7 in the first round, too.
"With two days off, we're going to see a good game. There's going to be fresh legs," Hunter said. "I think both teams are going to come out and play hard because there's more energy. For six games, they've been battling and with two days off they got more rest."
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