Capitals bracing for life without Brooks Laich as playoffs loom

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The Washington Capitals know Brooks Laich. They know his strengths, his weaknesses and what he brings to the team.

“He’s one of our hardest workers. He’s one of our most consistent players every night,” right wing Troy Brouwer said. “He’s that guy that always wants to be on the ice, always wants to be involved. Maybe, sometimes to a fault, he tries to do too much.”

Trying to do it all is one of Laich’s calling cards. But playing through a groin injury isn’t about toughness or stubbornness.

As a result, the Caps have spent much of the season without Laich. On Tuesday, he missed his 34th game of the year, and there’s no telling when the 29-year-old forward will return.

It might not be this season, as the has team decided to wait until Laich is pain-free before letting him skate again. Even amid winning, the Caps could use Laich’s presence.

“We miss him quite a bit, that’s for sure,” forward Matt Hendricks said. “This team looks to Brooksie for a lot of things, a lot more than just on-ice performance. … It’s a difficult time without him.”

Coach Adam Oates called Laich returning in the playoffs a “legitimate goal,” but with an uncertain time frame the Caps have to go about preparing as if he won’t be back this year.

That’s easier said than done.

“He plays those big minutes for us,” left wing Marcus Johansson said. “Of course we miss him, but there’s not much we can do about it.”

Despite returning March 19 after missing the first 28 games of the season, Laich might not have been 100 percent with a groin injury suffered four months earlier while playing in Switzerland during the NHL lockout.

Laich played nine games, including at least 19 minutes in three of them, but that stretch taught the Caps a lesson.

“We don’t want to do what we did last time,” Oates said. “We want to make sure that [he’s] 100 percent.”

Laich said he was 100 percent last month and expressed no doubt about back-to-back games or a heavy workload. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that the team, at least for the time being, ruled out surgery, which would require a recovery period of four to six weeks.

“You know Brooks, he’s hard-headed,” said defenseman Mike Green, who had sports hernia surgery last year. “I gave him my info, but who knows how he takes it. He’s got one vision and that’s in his own head.”

It’s possible surgery won’t fix Laich’s problem. Defenseman Tom Poti missed two full years with groin injuries and a fractured pelvis, though specialists couldn’t recommend him going under the knife.

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