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CAPITALS: Early Game 6 Goal Could Serve As Turning Point For Mike Green

By ZAC BOYER | | @ZacBoyer

ARLINGTON – When Mike Green skated along the Washington Capitals’ bench midway through the first period of Game 6 on Sunday, giving fist-bumps to several of his teammates, center Jay Beagle could practically hear the defenseman’s sigh of relief.

Green had just scored his first goal since Oct. 22 in the Capitals’ 4-3 loss to the Bruins, avoiding a diving Greg Campbell before unleashing a slap shot that ricocheted off Greg Zanon’s left leg, past Tim Thomas and into the net.

“It was good for him to score, and he’s had a lot of opportunities to find the back of the net, and for him to score and get going – it’s only gonna be good for us,” Beagle said Monday at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, where players attended meetings but did not practice in advance of Wednesday’s decisive first-round Game 7 in Boston. “I know he was pretty relieved to have that go in.”

If the six months between goals for Green doesn’t sound like a long time, consider that the defenseman hadn’t scored at all since Dale Hunter took over as Capitals head coach on Nov. 28.

Granted, he missed 47 games because of a groin injury and three more because of suspension, but Green would have been off the scoresheets entirely in his 24 regular-season games with Hunter as coach if not for a solitary assist in the Capitals’ March 19 victory at Detroit.

“I think that since he’s been back, he’s been better every game,” defenseman John Carlson said. “It’s a good time to be playing good hockey, and he’s playing good hockey.”

Green said last week he’s in great shape after returning from the groin injury for good on Feb. 18 at Tampa Bay – “probably the best I’ve felt in two years.” He dealt with a concussion through the second half of the 2009-10 season and missed 33 games, and after playing in seven games to start the season, he sprained an ankle Oct. 22 against Detroit.

The injury forced him off the ice for six games, and in his return Nov. 11 against New Jersey, he pulled the groin. Despite a two-game comeback in early January when the groin didn’t feel quite right, Green was out of action until Feb. 18, when he played 14 minutes at Tampa Bay.

It wasn’t until “probably about a game or two before playoffs, to be honest,” that Green felt like he was fully healthy again. “It was weird how it took that long, but being out that long, I think the mental game is more of the play. I felt great physically, but mentally I need to find it again.”

That happened on Sunday when, 9:47 into the game, he took the puck near the high slot and saw an opportunity. Campbell closed the lane by diving – “I tried to be as big as possible,” he said after the game – but Green demonstrated patience, waiting for his momentum to carry him around Campbell before taking the shot.

“He went down, and I wasn’t gonna be able to get through, so I waited for him to stand back up,” Green said. “I got the puck through and was fortunate it went in.”

An offensively minded defenseman during the his last five full seasons with the Capitals, Hunter’s arrival changed Green’s responsibilities. He has rotated off and on the top power play unit, more often than not manning his spot on the point on power plays, but he’s no longer expected to act as a fourth forward for the Capitals when he’s on the ice at even strength.

That’s led to a more relaxed player – and one who, with concerns about his health, is able to take the game a bit easier now.

“I think kind of over the last couple years, it’s been tough with injuries and whatnot,” Green said. “I finally feel good. Not only that, I think it’s all about feel, too, and I have a good feel. I don’t know how to explain it.”


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