SAN JOSE – The list of significant, superstar players out with injuries as the Stanley Cup playoffs approach is an extensive one (our friends at NBC have the rundown, here).
The Sharks, though, are remarkably healthy for the month April. Injured defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic and forward Matt Nieto, who both missed the last 12 games of the regular season, took part in the team’s first playoff practice on Monday and are on track to be in the lineup for Game 1 on Thursday against the Kings.
“We’ve got all hands on deck. No issues here right now,” coach Pete DeBoer said.
Vlasic has recovered from a sprained right MCL after he got tangled up with the Coyotes’ Shane Doan in a game on March 17. He’ll resume his place on a pair with partner Justin Braun that will see plenty of the Kings' Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter lines.
In 67 games, the 29-year-old posted eight goals, a career-high 39 points and a plus-15 rating.
“I’m looking forward to playing,” Vlasic said. “Took the time to heal properly, and now I’m ready to go.”
Paul Martin, in the playoffs for the 12th straight year, said: “The way he plays the game, controls it, and is able to match up against the other team’s top players and eat a lot of minutes – in [the] playoffs, that goes a long way.”
Vlasic's absence was felt by the Sharks in the final two games of their first round collapse against the Kings in 2014, when he suffered a lower body injury and apparent concussion early in Game 5. In 2013, he played through a hairline fracture in his foot suffered in Game 4 of the eventual seven-game defeat in the second round to Los Angeles.
Nieto was slotted on the left wing of third line with Patrick Marleau and Melker Karlsson on Monday, leaving the Sharks a fourth line of Chris Tierney between Tommy Wingels and Nick Spaling. The odd men out were Dainius Zubrus and Micheal Haley.
In 67 games, Nieto, who hurt his left hand blocking a shot on March 17, had eight goals and nine assists for 17 points this season.
"Everything's fine,” he said. “Shooting the puck fine. There's not a situation that I'm iffy about right now. I wouldn't come back if I weren't 100 percent. I'm feeling really good."
DeBoer is pleased to have another option up front.
“[Nieto] brings speed, he helps our penalty kill. He works, he plays a fast game in the corners, offensively. He’s a nice option to have there.”
Los Angeles is among the healthier teams headed into the playoffs, too, although top-four defenseman Alec Martinez (undisclosed) and forward Marian Gaborik (knee) are uncertain for Game 1. Jordan Nolan (back) and Matt Greene (shoulder) are out.