ARLINGTON — Devante Smith-Pelly will skate onto the ice at Capital One Arena tonight and the crowd will roar. They will chant “D-S-P!” and give him an ovation and he will try to keep a stone-faced focus, though it will be hard.
Not bad for a player who was cut in February, passed on by 30 other NHL teams and banished to the minors after a disappointing season and a salary-cap crunch. But that is life as a Stanley Cup playoff folk hero. After scoring seven goals with 19 points during last year’s postseason, including the game-tying goal in the decisive Game 5 of the final series against the Vegas Golden Knights, Smith-Pelly bought himself a lifetime of good will.
Now, an injury to T.J. Oshie gets him another chance with the Capitals. Smith-Pelly will be in the lineup tonight when Washington hosts the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 5 of a first-round playoff series (8 p.m., NBC).
“I don’t know if weird is the word. It’s a business,” Smith-Pelly said. “It’s hard to go through something like that. I missed the guys a lot. I still kept in touch with pretty much everyone. It was just going there and doing what I had to do and waiting for a shot. It’s unfortunate that [Oshie] had to get hurt.”
Smith Pelly had just four goals and four assists in 54 games this season and was held out of several preseason games to get his conditioning where it needed to be. When the Capitals traded for forward Carl Hagelin on Feb. 21 they needed salary-cap space to make the move, according to general manager Brian MacLellan. He chose waiving Smith-Pelly over Dmitrij Jaskin.
When Smith-Pelly cleared waivers, Washington sent him to AHL Hershey so he could play and be ready if needed again. That didn’t seem likely when the playoffs began and the salary cap was no longer an issue. MacLellan said the team had no immediate plans to recall Smith-Pelly just so he could sit.
But the Capitals wanted him to stay in game shape in case injuries struck – and they finally did on Monday in Game 4. T.J. Oshie is out indefinitely with an upper-body injury. Smith-Pelly got the recall and is in the lineup tonight at right wing on the fourth line. It is another chance for a player who was once a second-round draft pick, but has been let go by three previous organizations (Anaheim, Montreal, New Jersey) and found himself on tenuous ground with the Capitals. This isn’t how he wanted it to be. But now he’s back.
“I wasn’t really thinking too much about it. I was watching the games and cheering the guys on,” Smith-Pelly said. “I wasn’t really sure. I definitely didn’t want to get a chance by someone else getting hurt. That’s for sure. So I don’t know. It’s kind of a weird spot. I’m focused on playing the playoffs there and helping the team there. I wasn’t really thinking about too much about what would happen.”
News and notes
Still no update on Oshie other than he’s out indefinitely, according to coach Todd Reirden. He will obviously not play in Game 5 after crashing into the boards following a nudge from behind by Carolina forward Warren Foegele. … Reirden’s lineup changes include Carl Hagelin moving to right wing on the second line and Chandler Stephenson joining Smith-Pelly and Nic Dowd on the fourth line. … After a nice first playoff game, rookie Jonas Siegenthaler will start with John Carlson, who moves to his natural right side. He'd been starting games on the left with Nick Jensen.
Game 5 lineup
Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas Backstrom – Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Carl Hagelin
Andre Burakovsky – Lars Eller – Brett Connolly
Chandler Stephenson – Nic Dowd – Devante Smith-Pelly
Jonas Siegenthaler – John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov – Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik – Nick Jensen
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