Capitals’ Evgeny Kuznetsov leaves Game 2 after McNabb’s hard hit

21 Comments

As Game 2’s first intermission begins, the good news is that the Washington Capitals tied the contest 1-1 after Vegas got off to another quick start. The bad news is that crucial center Evgeny Kuznetsov suffered an upper-body injury and is unlikely to be back tonight.

Kuznetsov was clearly shaken up after a hard hit by Golden Knights defenseman Deryk Engelland. There are a few possibilities for what might be bothering the Russian playmaker, and maybe it comes down to more than one issue. He could be dealing with shoulder pain, wrist pain, or something arm-related.

Whatever the ailments might be, Kuznetsov was clearly in pain and left the ice for the remainder of the first period. It’s not too surprising he didn’t return, as the hit happened with just a bit more than five minutes left in the opening frame. Kuznetsov may return at some point during Game 2, yet he did not come out for the beginning of the second period.

The Capitals consider him “questionable” to return. They’re merely labeling it an upper-body injury.

With Kuznetsov out, Trotz first went with a familiar combination: Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin (rounded out by Tom Wilson).

While Backstrom is experienced sliding into the top center role alongside Ovechkin, and Lars Eller‘s dealt with being bumped up the lineup when Backstrom was out, it’s difficult to overstate how important Kuznetsov’s been to Washington. Most obviously, he came into Game 2 with an impressive 25 points in 20 playoff games.

“He’s been our best player in the playoffs,” Nicklas Backstrom said after Game 2. “It’s hard to replace him.”

Kuznetsov’s strong run included an 11-game point streak that was cut short by this injury. The best news is that Washington gets a little extra time between Game 2 tonight and Game 3 on Saturday, so maybe that will help him return.

Considering that Backstrom’s dealing with hand issues that sidelined him during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Caps could fight through this series with their two best centers at less than full-strength. That’s playoff hockey though, right?

There were other physical moments during the first 20 minutes, including this hard, clean hit by Tom Wilson on Ryan Carpenter:

Update: The Capitals responded splendidly to Kuznetsov’s absence, ultimately beating the Golden Knights 3-2 to tie the series 1-1. Washington didn’t provide many details about Kuznetsov after Game 2, although Barry Trotz said that he believed it was a “high hit.”

MORE:
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.