There was a 6-foot-4, 220-pound hole in the Washington lineup in Game 2 against the Florida Panthers.
Tom Wilson’s injury is one of many around the NHL playoffs that could tip the balance of a series. The Pittsburgh Penguins are down to their third-string goaltender against the New York Rangers, while the Nashville Predators will be without their starter again in Game 3 against the heavily favored Colorado Avalanche, who are up 2-0.
Washington and Florida are tied going into Game 3 on Saturday (1 p.m. EDT, ESPN), though the first two were polar opposites. Wilson scored a power-play goal early in the opener before leaving with a lower-body injury and the Capitals built off that and pounced on opportunities before the Panthers took over in Game 2 with the rugged right winger sidelined.
”When you lose a player like Tom, it’s tough,” Capitals coach Peter Laviolette said. ”It would have been great if we could have just moved from Game 1 to Game 2 and had the same lineup, but that opportunity wasn’t there, it wasn’t present and so we have to move forward.”
Panthers interim coach Andrew Brunette wondered if Wilson might play for the Capitals sooner rather than later. His likely replacement, rookie Brett Leason, is gritty but Wilson set career highs with 24 goals, 28 assists and 52 points this season. He’s also an enforcer.
”Definitely for them, losing him hurts,” Brunette said. ”He epitomizes the power forward playoff kind of player. … He brings that component to the game and he brings an edge and he brings a hardness that you have to be very aware of, and he’s got some skill. He’s a very valuable player to their team.”
RANGERS at PENGUINS, series tied 1-1 (7 p.m., TNT)
Tristan Jarry was valuable to the Penguins before a lower-body injury late in the regular season knocked him out and set up Casey DeSmith as the playoff starter. DeSmith was injured midway through the second overtime of the series opener at New York and was replaced by Louis Domingue, who stopped all 17 shots he faced in relief.
The Rangers beat Domingue and Pittsburgh to even the series. After DeSmith underwent core muscle surgery and was ruled out for the remainder of the playoffs and with Jarry not close to returning, it’s now Domingue’s show.
”He’s got experience – he’s a really good goalie,” forward Teddy Blueger said. ”We’re all behind him. We know he can get the job done. I think he’s played really well for us.”
AVALANCHE at PREDATORS, Colorado leads 2-0 (4 p.m., TNT)
Connor Ingram played very well in relief for Nashville on Thursday night, stopping 49 of 51 shots in a 2-1 OT loss at Colorado. With starter Juuse Saros out with a lower-body injury, Ingram got the call after the Avalanche lit up David Rittich for five goals on 13 shots in the series opener.
Predators coach John Hynes on Friday ruled out Saros for Game 3, so Ingram appears in line to get the nod again. But offense is a bigger problem now for Nashville after going 0 for 4 on the power play in Game 2 and getting outshot 51-26.
”We’ve got to still find a way to close on them, not give them as much time,” Predators defenseman Alexander Carrier said. ”We all know in this room that we’ve got to be better.”
FLAMES at STARS, series tied 1-1 (9:30 p.m., TNT)
The Pacific Division champion Calgary Flames also expect better now that they are tied with the Dallas Stars after a 2-0 shutout loss. Each team is relatively healthy, and yet the series has featured only two goals scored against a goaltender – a far cry from the high-scoring trend across the league in the first round.
Credit Calgary’s Jacob Markstrom and Dallas’ Jake Oettinger for that, along with some old-school coaching by Darryl Sutter and Rick Bowness.
”The only thing that matters is wins,” Oettinger said. ”They have a great goalie on the other end and we know it’s going to be tight, so the margin for error for me is very slim.”
AP Sports Writers Will Graves in Pittsburgh, Pat Graham in Denver and Teresa M. Walker in Nashville contributed.
Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno
More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports