The day after having surgery to repair a torn left Achilles tendon, Erik Karlsson told Ottawa Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson he would be back in two months.
Because doctors said four to six months, "We knew that was not possible," Alfredsson said. "We never thought he would be able to come back unless we went really far in the playoffs."
Alfredsson was wrong. Karlsson needed slightly more than two months after the gruesome mid-February injury to return, and the reigning Norris Trophy-winning defenseman was in the Senators' lineup Thursday at the Washington Capitals.
"I've been feeling good lately, and I think it's about time to play some hockey again," Karlsson said. "I think I'm good enough to play. I don't know exactly what percentage it is. Obviously it's not the way it was before, but it's still good enough to be able to play hockey."
Karlsson's left Achilles tendon was sliced by the left skate of Pittsburgh Penguins forward Matt Cooke on Feb. 13. He missed 31 games but returned with time to spare before the playoffs.
No one expected this, not even his teammates.
"Not at all. Are you kidding?" defense partner Marc Methot said. "I'd like to think that most people were writing him off for this season. ... He wanted to get back real bad."
The Senators are a potential first-round opponent for the Caps when the playoffs begin in Washington on Tuesday or Wednesday. Fellow Swedes Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson are happy their friend is back on the ice, but they also realize the immense challenges he presents.
"He's got the whole package, and he's a great skater with great hands and great looks," Johansson said. "He sees the play unbelievably well. He's definitely someone you have to be aware of when he's on the ice."
The Caps have a similar offensively talented defenseman in Mike Green, so they understand the impact Karlsson has on the Senators.
"I think he's really, really good at breaking up the other team's forecheck and finding an opening, beating one guy and then drawing another to him before he makes a pass," Alfredsson said. "He has that special ability with his vision and quickness that he can do things other guys can't. That's just the way it is. He's pretty special that way."
Ward working toward return
Joel Ward took part in the Caps' morning skate Thursday but his status is still uncertain as he tries to get back from a bruised left knee. Oates would not rule Ward out for Saturday's regular-season finale against the Boston Bruins but indicated that the right wing could use a couple of practices before he's ready.
"It felt better today," Ward said. "It was good to just get on the ice a little bit and put my gear on. It was just good to be out there again. But it was definitely a positive day, for sure."
Having clinched the Southeast Division and the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference on Tuesday, the Caps have the benefit of not rushing Ward back.
"We'd love to get him in, but he's got to be 100 percent," Oates said.
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