SUNRISE, Fla. — Tom Wilson will not play for the Washington Capitals in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference First Round against the Florida Panthers at FLA Live Arena on Thursday (7:30 pm ET; TBS, SN360, TVAS2, BSFL, NBCSWA).
The forward sustained a lower-body injury in the first period of a 4-2 victory in Game 1 of the best-of-7 series Tuesday. Wilson appeared to be hurt while trying to hit Panthers defenseman MacKenzie Weegar and did not play after leaving 7:47 into the game. Wilson took to the ice for a practice skate during a stoppage in play later in the first period and again in the second period, but was unable to return.
Washington coach Peter Laviolette was optimistic Wilson would not be out long term.
“Right now, Tom is day to day,” he said. “We always hope for the best with players, and he’s listed as day to day and hope to see him down the road.”
[RELATED: Complete Panthers vs. Capitals series coverage]
Wilson set NHL career-highs with 24 goals, 28 assists and 52 points in 78 games in the regular season and scored Washington’s first goal on a rebound of Anthony Mantha‘s shot 3:47 into Game 1 against Florida. Rookies Connor McMichael and Axel Jonsson-Fjallby are the extra forwards on the Capitals’ playoff roster, so one of them will likely play if Wilson is unable Thursday.
Mantha was among the players to step up after Wilson left Tuesday. The forward had a game-high 10 hits, five shots on goal and was second among Capitals forwards with 19:11 in ice time.
Wilson’s 240 hits were second most among Washington forwards during the regular season. Replacing Wilson’s physicality along with his offensive production and play on the penalty kill will be challenging.
“Obviously, it’s hard to find someone who plays the same way as Tom,” Mantha said Wednesday. “He’s a great player for our team and he’s intense. He hits a lot. So, I think it’s just the same mindset for us and play the same game. Special teams need to be dominant and hopefully we go from there.”
Forward Brett Leason will make his NHL playoff debut. He scored six points (three goals, three assists) in 36 regular-season games and was recalled from Hershey of the American Hockey League on Thursday.
“Brett’s done a really good job for us the entire year in the position that’s available tonight,” Laviolette said. “So as we look at it, it ends up being a right wing position. … It’s a position he’s come up and he’s played for us many times and done a really good job inside of that role that we’re asking him to play. Had it been a centerman position what was open, it might have been a different person. Had it been a left wing position, it might have been a different person. He’s done a really good job for quite a few games for us this year. He’s played well.”
Leason played in all three regular-season games against the Panthers and had two assists.
“I think just knowing the staff, that helps a little bit,” he said. “Obviously, it is what we do out there. We got to come and have a good start and just play our game, play physical.”
With Garnet Hathaway moving up to the third line, Leason will play right wing on the fourth line with John Larsson and Nic Dowd.
“Obviously I’ve played with ‘Dowder’ a lot this season, so that obviously helps,” Leason said. “I’ll get comfortable, do my role, and do what ‘Lavi’ expects of me.”
The Capitals said they were pleased with their overall play in Game 1. Washington limited Florida’s speed for much of the game with its structured neutral-zone play, which helped hold in check a high-powered offense that scored a League-leading 4.11 goals per game in the regular season.
But the Capitals expect the Panthers, who won the Presidents’ Trophy as the team with the most points in the NHL during the regular season (122), to elevate their play in Game 2. Washington also remembers that it won Game 1 of its first -round series against the Boston Bruins last season before losing four straight.
“We have to focus on Game 2,” Laviolette said Wednesday. “We got a good opponent on our hands. … We need to focus on the present and stayed focused on our game and trying to get better in areas that we can get better and trying to put the pedal down on things that we were good at last night.”