Evgeny Kuznetsov’s practice participation an encouraging sign for Capitals

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ARLINGTON, Va. — Evgeny Kuzetsov was an active participant during the Washington Capitals’ skate on Friday. He took turns during drills and fired off a handful of wrist shots two days after he left Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final with an upper-body injury following a hit by Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Brayden McNabb.

Capitals head coach Barry Trotz said the 26-year-old forward remains “day-to-day” and noted he hasn’t been fully cleared yet to play. Kuznetsov left Game 2 late in the first period with Vegas leading 1-0. Nicklas Backstrom and Lars Eller were bumped up in the line combinations, with Eller factoring in all three goals during their 3-2 victory to even the series.

Kuznetsov, the NHL’s leading playoff scorer, will likely be a game-time decision before Saturday’s Game 3 in D.C., but it was an encouraging sign for the Capitals to see how well he handled practice.

“He’s one of our top guys,” said linemate Alex Ovechkin. “Of course, it’s very important to see him skating and I’m pretty sure he’s going to be OK tomorrow.”

Kuznetsov has been quite durable during his NHL career, having missed five total regular season games since 2014-15. His speed and elusiveness has certainly helped him avoid messy situations for the most part.

“When you’re top player, people go after you,” said Trotz. “I think he’s able to rebound. He’s an athlete who takes care of himself on and off the ice. His background coming over from Russia, they’re a tough group. They are, and he’s got some toughness to his game and he bounces back.”

The Capitals are familiar with this situation after Backstrom missed four games in the second round. “Next man up” is the mentality and Trotz said after Game 2 that the injury “galvanized” his team; but any extended absence would leave a big hole in the offense.

Said Brett Connolly: “He’s obviously such a big piece and we’re going to need going forward if we’re going to win this thing.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.