Evgeny Kuznetsov is making a serious case for the Conn Smythe Trophy, an award given to the top performer of the Stanley Cup playoffs. It seems that he always outdoes himself each playoff game.
In the regular season, Kuznetsov posted career-highs in goals (27), assists (56), and points (83) but the best was yet to come. Coach Barry Trotz always believed in the potential of his first-line center and spoke highly of him in Tuesday’s conference call.
“I think he’s been on the cusp of superstar status all year. He’s been up in the top-15 in scoring pretty well all year so if you’re in the top-15 players in the league, you’re pretty close to superstar status,” said Trotz.
In the playoffs, Kuznetsov has only got better as he’s embraced the big stage. His four assists on Monday night tied a Capitals single-game playoff record that was set by both Scott Stevens in Game 6 of the 1988 Patrick Division Finals and Andrei Nikolishin in Game 3 of the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals. Kuznetsov is also the fifth player in the past 31 years to have four helpers in a Stanley Cup Finals game and the first since Joe Sakic did it for the Colorado Avalanche in 1996.
Kuznetsov leads the Capitals with 31 points and 19 assists. While Alex Ovechkin leads the Capitals in goals with 14, he trails Kuznetsov in points by five. Kuznetsov has earned a point in 13 of his last 14 playoff games. He carried an 11-game point streak before leaving Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals with an upper-body injury but returned to action in Game 3 and has a total of six points since.
“The glare of Ovi probably has dimmed Kuzy’s light, if you will, but in the playoffs you don’t know how guys are going to perform, good or bad,” Trotz said.
“Kuzy has elevated his game. It’s not surprising when you see his ability, his I.Q., his skill level, and now he’s brought that pride of playing in really tough games (to) the most meaningful games you can play in. He’s been outstanding.”
Kuznetsov is currently tied for eighth in NHL history for most points in the playoffs. Four of the seven players listed ahead of him have won the Conn Smythe Trophy. Should the Capitals close this series out Thursday and Kuznetsov has another incredible game, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him take that hardware home.
“You can make a name for yourself in the playoffs and he’s definitely doing that,” said Trotz.
By Michael Marzzacco