May 26th, 2024

Defencemen injuries are already piling up early in the NHL playoffs

By Stephen Whyno, The Associated Press on April 23, 2024.

New York Islanders' Bo Horvat (14) collides with Carolina Hurricanes' Brett Pesce (22) during the first period in Game 2 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup first-round playoff series in Raleigh, N.C., Monday, April 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)

Deep NHL playoff runs Jason Demers went on during his playing career usually ended the same way.

“The injuries just accumulated too much,” he said. “And then you’re just not playing at 100%.”

That attrition is already showing early in the first round this spring at Demers’ old position, as defences have been depleted by existing and new injuries, from Tampa Bay’s Mikhail Sergachev and Colorado’s Samuel Girard being out long term to Carolina’s Brett Pesce going down Monday night and Washington being down to minor leaguers to fill its many voids.

There were 70 goals scored over the first 10 games in the first round, a product of not just hot offence sparked by some of the league’s top players but team-wide struggles to keep the puck out of the net.

“It’s really hard if you don’t have some depth and guys that can step right in and can have impact,” said three-time Stanley Cup-winning defenceman Ken Daneyko, now an NHL Network analyst. “When you’re missing a top player like a Sergachev like Tampa is, it makes it that much more difficult, but you find a way to rally around other guys. You have to. And if you don’t have enough, well that’s going to be tough to make some noise in the playoffs.”

Pesce’s injury is the latest potentially significant one to crop up, leaving Game 2 against the New York Islanders hobbled following a noncontact play. Coach Rod Brind’Amour said afterward the situation was “not looking good,” and it’s the first major test of depth for the slight championship favourite Hurricanes.

Tony DeAngelo would be the next veteran defenceman up.

“We’re in kind of wait-and-see mode right now,” Brind’Amour said Tuesday, acknowledging there’s some extra time before his team goes for a 3-0 series lead Thursday night on Long Island. “Don’t want to really jump the gun yet.”

Boston will be without trade deadline pickup Andrew Peeke for at least the next two games at Toronto because of an injury Bruins coach Jim Montgomery deemed week to week.

The Metropolitan Division-rival Capitals have been dealing with blue line losses for weeks now, finishing the regular season without injured Rasmus Sandin and Nick Jensen, as well as Ethan Bear, who’s in the player assistance program. Rookie Vincent Iorio was injured in their Game 1 defeat Sunday at the New York Rangers, pressing Lucas Johansen in for his NHL playoff debut.

Johansen joined fellow American Hockey League call-up Dylan McIlrath in Washington’s lineup. If nothing else, the team is accustomed to drawing from AHL Hershey.

“The same way we have with other injuries, departures that we’ve had all year: It’s going to be opportunity for other players to step up and then also not putting that on one person’s shoulders,” coach Spencer Carbery said recently. “The group – D corps, forwards – doing a little bit more to help alleviate (the absences).”

Tampa Bay has been dealing with life without Sergachev since the 25-year-old broke his left leg in early February. He has been ruled out for the first round against Florida, but has been skating and could return if the Lightning beat the defending Eastern Conference champions and advance to face Boston or Toronto.

To do so, coach Jon Cooper said Max Crozier, summoned from the minors on Monday, “might have to play” because Nick Perbix is banged up. The Lightning got eliminated in the first round last year only after experienced D-man Erik Cernak was concussed.

Girard, who was sidelined for much of the Avalanche’s 2022 Cup run that finished by beating Tampa Bay because of a broken sternum, has been out and in of concussion protocol since injuring his head April 13 against Winnipeg. Colorado lost its playoff opener to the Jets 7-6 on Sunday night, the third time in six games the Avs have allowed seven goals.

Coach Jared Bednar said Girard is skating and “progressing,” positive news that he could return when the series shifts to Denver later this week.

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AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL

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