Andre Burakovsky is indeed back.
The Capitals winger participated in his first full-contact practice Friday and afterward confirmed that he’ll suit up against the Lightning at Amalie Arena in Tampa on Saturday night.
“I’m playing tomorrow,” said Burakovsky, who has been sidelined since Feb. 9 with a broken right hand. “I’ve been feeling pretty good lately. I talked to the doctor and obviously it’s not 100-percent. But it feels good and my shot is getting better. The doctor said it can’t get worse, even if it hurts sometimes when I shoot.”
He added: “I can’t really feel [pain] when I’m shooting. It’s more coming a little bit after because I’m not really thinking about it when I’m shooting [since] I’m so focused on my shot and what I’m supposed to do. Right after [the shot] I feel a little, bit but it’s not bad. It’s something I can live with.”
Earlier in the day, prospect Jakub Vrana was demoted to Hershey to make room for Burakovsky, who had been on long-term injured reserve.
“I’m happy to see him back,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “Nothing against Jake, but you want to see Andre back.”
Burakovsky’s return couldn’t come at a better time for the Capitals, who are in need of a boost. They’ve lost five of their past six games while averaging less than 2.2 goals per game during that span.
During Friday’s practice, Burakovsky returned to his usual spot on the Caps’ third line with Brett Connolly and Lars Eller. Connolly and Eller have combined for just three goals and four assists without Burakovsky the past 15 games, a precipitous drop in production from the trio’s pre-injury level.
Eller said it’s too early to know if they’ll pick up where they left off but he said he’s optimistic.
“He makes the team better so we’re glad to have him back,” Eller said. “Andre looked good [and] he’s glad to be back.”
Connolly conceded it might take a couple of games to gel.
“If we can get anywhere close to what we were doing before the break, I think that would be good going into the playoffs,” Connolly said. “He’s obviously a big part of the team and we’re happy to have him back and hopefully we can pick up where we left off.”
Although Burakovsky’s shot may not be 100-percent yet, the 22-year-old winger said he’s in top physical condition after spending the past five weeks working almost exclusively on his skating and stamina.
“I’m hungry,” said Burakovsky, who will wear a wrap on his wrist and hand for stabilization purposes. “I’ve been out for a while now and I can’t wait to get back in. I’m excited.”
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