Photo: Derek Cain/Getty Images
Center Evgeny Kuznetsov stepped up when the Washington Capitals needed it from a game-changer like him when they trailed 5-1 in the final minute of the second period in a 6-5 overtime comeback thriller against the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena on Friday night.
After Kuznetsov entered the game with only one assist and an even rating in his previous four outings, he opened the scoring for the Capitals, beating Canucks goaltender Jacob Markstrom with a smooth wrister past the blocker after deking once he got the puck from forward Jakub Vrana, who forced the Canucks into a defensive zone turnover as he pinched from the blueline.
Later on, the 27-year old scored a huge goal for the Capitals with 0.3 seconds left in the second period to give them life after they trailed 5-1, sniping a shot from the right circle with all the time in the world after getting fed from the sidewall.
“At the end of the second period, I think [Kuznetsov] scored a big goal there,” center Nicklas Backstrom said after the game. “It kind of kept us in the game a little bit. Even if we’re down three goals, our mindset going into the third was they have a young team, and maybe if we put some pressure on them early and get a couple of goals, maybe it will be a different game. That’s what we did, and we got lucky. We got fortunate tonight.”
Kuznetsov’s impact on the game was beyond the scoresheet, though. He did not show any hesitance with the puck as he did in seasons past as he led the Capitals with seven shots against the Canucks.
For a team that has been leaning on heavily on captain Alex Ovechkin and defenseman John Carlson, who each entered Friday’s game with nine-game point-streaks, they lean on players like Kuznetsov to pick up the slack when Ovechkin and Carlson aren’t scoring. And they needed it from No. 92 as both Ovechkin and Carlson’s point-streaks came to an end in Vancouver.
“A huge win for us,” Capitals head coach Todd Reirden told the media. “A crazy game and they converted on some of their chances early on. The huge goal for us was Kuznetsov’s right before the break, under a second. He obviously gets it in a good spot, finishes it, and we were able to talk about that between periods, and really feel like we could build some momentum and get some opportunities if we played the right way.”
For the Capitals, they are hoping that this is the beginning of more left to come for Kuznetsov. After leading the league with 32 points during the Capitals’ run to the Stanley Cup in 2018, Kuznetsov’s scoring dipped to 72 points in 76 games last year, and he only scored one goal during the team’s seven-game exit in the first round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Though, he did finish the postseason with six points.
After being quiet for the past couple of games, Kuznetsov answered the bell when called upon by his team. Now, the hope is that this starts a trend as the Capitals get set to wrap their season-long five-game road trip up at the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday night (7 PM ET, NBC Sports Washington).
By Harrison Brown