The Capitals have recalled forwards Garrett Mitchell and Chandler Stephenson ahead of Sunday’s regular season finale against the Panthers.
The moves could mean that Coach Barry Trotz intends to rest a couple of players in a game that means nothing in the standings.
The Capitals, already locked into the top seed, are waiting to learn whom they’ll face in the first round. The Panthers, meanwhile, have been eliminated from postseason contention.
It’s unclear whom Trotz would consider sitting out or if anyone suffered an injury in Saturday’s 3-1 win over the Bruins.
At this time of the year, though, there’s no shortage of players who are nursing an ailment and could benefit from a breather.
The Caps are off Monday, will return to practice Tuesday and are expected to open the playoffs at home against either Boston or Toronto on Thursday.
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Assuming Mitchell, the Bears’ captain, suits up against the Panthers, it’ll be his NHL debut. The 25-year-old was drafted in the sixth round of the 2009 draft. He’s played 352 games in Hershey without an NHL recall.
Stephenson, on the other hand, has been up with the Capitals a few times already this season. He has no points in three games.
The status of defenseman John Carlson and forward Brett Connolly also remains unclear. Carlson (lower body injury) has missed three games but is a possibility for the Florida game, Trotz said Saturday. Connolly (ill) also missed the Boston game.
In addition to the lineup intrigue, there’s something else for Caps fans to keep their eyes on this evening: the Columbus at Toronto game.
The Caps, in fact, will know their first-round opponent before they’re done playing, since the Jackets-Leafs game starts an hour earlier.
If the Leafs earn a point against the Jackets, the Caps get the Bruins. If the Leafs lose in regulation, the Leafs will open in Washington.
The Caps have done well against both teams this year and in recent seasons.
Alex Ovechkin and Co. have won nine straight games against the Bruins, including all three meetings this season after Saturday’s triumph in Boston. Meantime, the Caps have won two of three meetings with the Leafs this season and seven of the last eight games overall, including a dominant 4-1 victory in Toronto last week.
“It’s going to be exciting,” Marcus Johansson told CSN after Saturday’s game. “I don’t think it matters for us who will we play. We’re all ready for anything. You’re going to have to go through all the best teams in the league to win. We’re all just ready and the excitement is building up.”