Wednesday, April 26, 2023 | 2:56 p.m.
Golden Knights forward William Carrier could make his return to the lineup Thursday for Game 5 of their first-round series against the Winnipeg Jets.
Carrier was a full-contact participant at practice Wednesday for the first time since a lower-body injury forced him to miss the final month and a half of the regular season.
The left winger hasn’t played since March 3.
Coach Bruce Cassidy said that if Carrier doesn’t experience any setbacks, there’s an opportunity for him to play with the Golden Knights leading the series 3-1 and a chance to close it out on home ice (7 p.m., ATTSN-RM, ESPN2).
“He checked another box today by practicing with the group,” Cassidy said. “He’s progressing well, so it’s good to see. … I’m not saying he will be in (the lineup), but that would be the final hurdle for him to get through contact.”
Carrier did not make the trip to Winnipeg for Games 3 and 4. He returned to the ice in a noncontact role prior to Game 1.
If the Golden Knights get Carrier back for Game 5, or beyond should Vegas advance, it would be another significant depth addition for the forward group.
Carrier scored a career-high 16 goals in 56 games this season. Starting as a fourth-line forward, Carrier was promoted to the third line before the All-Star break on a line with center Chandler Stephenson and winger Phil Kessel. It was the first time Carrier reached double digits in goals. The 25 points he scored this season were also a career high.
The trio scored six goals together at 5-on-5 while allowing two. It was the most consistent line during a stretch when the Knights lost seven of nine going into the break.
“Our depth is something we’ve looked forward to,” defenseman Shea Theodore said. “It’s one of our strongest asset and hopefully we get everyone in the lineup.”
Though Carrier’s addition would put the Golden Knights at the healthiest they’ve been all season, it comes at the risk of someone coming out of the lineup.
Wednesday’s practice didn’t provide a confirmation of that, but it did raise some intrigue.
Kessel was replaced on the second power-play unit with Ivan Barbashev. Kessel has skated with William Karlsson and Reilly Smith on the second line by way of Mark Stone’s return to the lineup.
Carrier’s third-line role is currently filled by Brett Howden, who has played well since lining up with Stephenson and Stone.
Cassidy didn’t say Kessel being replaced on the power play was an indication of bad play from the veteran forward and the NHL’s iron man, but if Carrier does return, a spot skating with Karlsson and Smith could be his.
Jonathan Marchessault took Kessel’s spot at the left circle on the second unit, Barbashev was placed in front of the net, and Karlsson was at the right circle.
“It’s a different presence around the front of the net,” Cassidy said. “Just a little bit of a different look from who’s shooting at the elbow.”
Scheifele out, Ehlers questionable
The Jets have already been bit by the injury bug this series, and now they’ll have to go into the win-or-go-home game without leading goal scorer Mark Scheifele.
Scheifele left Game 4 after he crashed into the boards after a breakaway opportunity early in the first period. He tried to play through the following power play shift, but left shortly after.
The 30-year-old Scheifele, who had a career-high 42 goals this season, has just one goal in this series.
Winnipeg is already out top defenseman Josh Morrissey, who was ruled out for the rest of the series due to a lower-body injury.
Jets coach Rick Bowness, however, has not ruled out forward Nikolaj Ehlers from making his postseason debut. Ehlers (upper body) was on the second line at Jets practice Wednesday. He hasn’t played since April 11.
Ehlers has 38 points (12 goals, 26 assists) in 43 games this season.
“The work is not done yet,” Karlsson said. “They’re a good team. They’re not going to lay down and die.”
Danny Webster can be reached at 702-259-8814 or [email protected]. Follow Danny on Twitter at twitter.com/DannyWebster21.