Caps forward Brooks Laich returns to the ice

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Loose Pucks,Sports,Brian McNally

Capitals forward Brooks Laich participated in the team’s morning skate at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday morning. It is the first time he’s skated with his teammates since leaving a game against the New York Islanders on April 4 with a recurring groin injury.

Laich was first injured while playing in Switzerland in November during the NHL lockout. He missed the first 28 games of 2013 once the NHL reconvened, appeared in nine in March and early April and then was hurt again. Multiple sources told the Examiner that Laich underwent sports hernia surgery in mid-April, but he denied that in a radio interview with 106.7 – The Fan last week and again to reporters in New York on Wednesday.

“There’s been a lot of speculation about what’s gone on with me, but nobody’s really got it right from me,” Laich said. “The reports aren’t entirely accurate. I didn’t have a sports hernia. I didn’t have a sports hernia surgery. But I don’t want to focus on that right now. It’s a game day and the guys are prepared to play a hockey game. Maybe some time at the end of the season we’ll address that, but for right now I want the focus just to be solely on the team.”

When pressed by reporters Laich wouldn’t confirm or deny that he underwent a different surgery. He just didn’t want to talk about it. Not sure I understand the reasoning behind the secrecy here. Is there a competitive disadvantage by disclosing that right now weeks after it happened? This isn’t like hiding an ongoing injury as so many hockey players do during the playoffs. And the team immediately announced when defenseman Mike Green did have sports hernia surgery last season. But it’s his decision so…

Whatever the case, Laich said he’s “skated here a little bit in the last week,” but that his conditioning isn’t quite where it needs to be. Neither he nor Caps coach Adam Oates would put a timeline on a possible return. Washington plays Game 4 of an Eastern Conference quarterfinal against the Rangers tonight. It leads the best-of-seven series 2-1.

It wasn’t exactly a triumphant return to the ice for Laich, who drew chuckles and stick taps from his teammates when he wiped out hard into the boards when trying to turn. He later jokingly blamed the equipment staff for not sharpening his skate blades enough. He also laughed and said it was the first good contact he’d had in weeks. Laich stayed on the ice for the scratches’ skate with teammates Tom Poti, Jeff Schultz, Wojtek Wolski, Aaron Volpatti and goalie Michal Neuvirth.

“The team is playing very well right now so I don’t need feel the need to rush it,” Laich said. “I certainly want to get back in and I want to stay in.”

So don’t look for Laich to return tonight in Game 4. He rushed through a strengthening program earlier this season to get on the ice as soon as possible back when it looked like the Caps might miss the playoffs entirely after a bad start. That didn’t go so well. Laich just never felt physically well enough to be as effective as he wanted.

“I’ve always said if I can help the team I’ll play, but I don’t feel like I’m at that point where I can physically help yet,” Laich said.

Today’s skate doesn’t necessarily mean Laich will be back on the ice Thursday at Kettler Iceplex for Washington’s next practice. If he and the team trainers feel an off-ice strengthening session is better then that’s what he’ll do. He just hopes the Caps can keep the season going long enough for him to play a role on the ice again.

“It’s actually been really lonely, to be honest,” Laich said. “It’s sort of been the loneliest year of my life not being able to play and be around the guys a whole lot.”

Follow me on Twitter @bmcnally14

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