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Capitals’ John Carlson opens up about gruesome injury: 'A one-in-a-million thing'

John Carlson (74) could make his return to the Capitals' lineup next week.  (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)
John Carlson (74) could make his return to the Capitals' lineup next week. (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

After hearing about the trauma John Carlson experienced from taking a slap shot to the head in December, you might wonder if the Washington Capitals defenseman would ever play another NHL game. But if Carlson has his way, he could very well play for the Capitals as soon as Thursday against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Carlson recently opened up to reporters about the frightening experience and injuries he suffered from that bad-luck shot on Dec. 23. Once team doctors were able to stop a scary amount of bleeding, the 33-year-old was diagnosed with a skull fracture and a lacerated temporal artery.

Carlson provided The Athletic’s Tarik El-Bashir with a more visceral description. Here are a few quotes that show just how harrowing the situation was.

“I just got struck by lightning,” Carlson said. “That’s the only way to describe it...

“There’s always close calls. There’s always a lot of, ‘Oh man, that could have hurt or that could have been bad’ times. This was bad. It’s a one-in-a-million thing — and it happened to me...

“It was bleeding so much. The only way I could describe it is just survival.”

Carlson also noted that he felt bad for the player who took the shot: Winnipeg Jets defenseman Brenden Dillon, a former Capitals teammate. The two have spoken many times since the incident.

Carlson hopes to play for Capitals again this season

Speaking of Capitals teammates, as Carlson gradually felt better and eventually ramped up his recovery, he experienced the sort of isolation others encounter while dealing with significant injuries.

“Those first few weeks were atrocious,” he told El-Bashir. “They were painful, sad. Since then, I’ve felt great.”

Remarkably, Carlson said he hasn’t been diagnosed with a concussion, nor has he noticed the sort of symptoms you’d associate with such an injury. That’s a key note because Carlson wants to return to NHL action in the near future, though that’s not a sure thing at this time.

“It was a lot of work and time put in,” Carlson told El-Bashir. “At three months, medically, there’s no more healing that can happen. This is what I do, this is what I want to do. So that’s the decision.”

From the outside, it seems foolish to risk additional injury — particularly on a Capitals team with extremely low odds of playing meaningful games — but Washington coach Peter Laviolette captured some of the struggle with telling a player to stay on the sidelines when they feel ready to go.

"If you were to go and do that, you would be telling a healthy player that, 'you're not going to play.' That creates problems, too,” Laviolette said, via NHL.com’s Tom Gulitti.

Whether Carlson comes back sometime in 2022-23 or waits until next season, it sounds like he’s eager to return from a serious injury that could have ended up even worse.