Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin nears return as NHL playoffs loom

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Alex Ovechkin seems primed to return to the ice Tuesday for Game 1 of Washington’s first-round playoff series against the Florida Panthers. The 36-year-old captain missed the final three games of the regular season after he suffered an upper-body injury in late April.

Sunday, Ovechkin said he could have played the last week of the season if they were playoff games. However, Ovechkin and the team wanted to be cautious.

“We knew we make the playoffs and just decided to take a rest,” Ovechkin said.

Ovechkin skated at Sunday’s team practice at MedStar Capitals Iceplex. He took full reps and has been skating with the team since Thursday morning in New York. He didn’t shy away from contact on Sunday and was taking his usual one-timers as practice was winding down.

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When asked if he will definitely be ready for Tuesday, Ovechkin said, “We’ll see.”

Game 1 against the top-seeded Panthers is at FLA Live Arena in Sunrise, Florida. The last time the Capitals, who enter the playoffs as the second wild card team in the East, started the postseason on the road was in 2012.

“We just have to play the same way on the road like we play in the regular season,” Ovechkin said. “But how said, everything is changing. It’s a totally different game it’s going to be, so I think we’re all excited. We all can’t wait for Game 1.”

Ovechkin, who had 50 goals in 77 games this season, has not missed a playoff game in his 17-year NHL career. He’s recorded 71 goals and 64 assists in 141 postseason games.

“Obviously he is the best goal scorer in the league and goals are important,” Dmitry Orlov said. “You can see in the last three games we didn’t score a lot. For sure we need him as a captain, as a leader, as our goal scorer.”

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Washington went 0-3 in its final three games of the regular season, including two straight losses to the New York Islanders before falling 3-2 in the regular season finale to the New York Rangers. The Capitals lost to the two Islanders games by a combined score of 9-2.

Despite their poor showing to end the year, the Capitals are confident they can bounce back for their first-round dance with the Panthers. Washington went 1-1-1 against Florida this season and scored an average of four goals a game but gave up an average of 4.33. The two teams have not played since late November.

“It’s going to be totally different games than the regular season,” Ovechkin said. “Obviously, they have a very solid group of guys, best team in the regular season. But in the playoffs, it’s going to be different. It’s going to be a different mind-set. It’s going to be different speed. It’s going to be a different battle level.”

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