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No surgery needed for Capitals’ Backstrom, Kuznetsov

The Washington Capitals met the media for the final time this season during locker clean out day on Wednesday and we got to see a sober and clean shaven Alex Ovechkin, plus we learned about the various injuries some players dealt with during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

First, Nicklas Backstrom, who missed four games due to a hand injury, revealed that he suffered two fractures in his right index finger blocking a Justin Schultz shot in the second round against the Pittsburgh Penguins. It got better after he returned in the Eastern Conference Final, but was still pretty swollen following the series. He won’t require surgery.

“I tried to play Game 6 [vs. Penguins], the hand was too swollen with the fracture,” Backstrom said via the Washington Post. “That was probably the worst finger to have, too. Any other finger it probably would’ve been fine. But this one is the one that I actually use. I got better and better every week. Which is good. They did a great job with all the treatments and stuff. It sucked at the time but we got it done. I got to play again.”

Forward Andre Burakovsky revealed he broke both thumbs during the season, including his right one during the first round.

Evgeny Kuznetsov left Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final late in the first period after taking a hit from Brayden McNabb of the Vegas Golden Knights. The forward did return for Game 3 and scored a goal and assisted on another during a 3-1 win. He will also not need surgery to repair the injured shoulder.

[Highlights from Capitals’ Stanley Cup parade]

In the grossest injury of the Final, defenseman Brooks Orpik, who had already suffered a hand injury in the first round, said that the tip of his left pinkie had to be reattached after being slashed by Erik Haula in Game 2. 

“It probably looked worse than it was, to be honest with you,” he said. “It was tough to look at, but the trainers did a really good job. It was never something I thought would keep me from playing.”

Marc Methot knows the feeling.

Most Capitals also noted that they’d be open to visiting the White House, a week after Devante Smith-Pelly said he would not attend any celebration with the U.S. president.

Finally, the most important question about this summer seems to moving towards getting an answer. Head coach Barry Trotz, who is not signed beyond July 1, said he and general manager Brian MacLellan have spoken about an extension and will work through “a few issues” to get a new deal done.

“[I]f he wants to be back, he’ll be back,” MacLellan said on the ice after the Capitals’ Cup victory last week.

MORE:
Ovechkin, Holtby get Jimmy Fallon to drink out of Stanley Cup
Don’t forget how great Kuznetsov, Backstrom were for Capitals

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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.

Don’t forget how great Kuznetsov, Backstrom were for Capitals

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As obnoxious as any Internet debate can be, bickering about who should win the Conn Smythe can help cement the below-the-fold stars who didn’t land the playoff MVP.

For example: it will never not boggle my mind that Chris Pronger ended his career without that award. Sure, he was a fire-breathing monster on the ice at times, but that was the point.

From a big picture perspective, it’s fitting that Alex Ovechkin won it this year after sparking the Washington Capitals’ run to a first-ever Stanley Cup. His 15 goals and 27 points were crucial to that run, and his epic celebration is leaving us hungover.

But was he truly the right choice from an objective standpoint? To my eyes, and in the mind of many others, Evgeny Kuznetsov would have been the truest choice.

So, with Ovechkin hamming it up (rightfully so) and Braden Holtby enjoying a well-deserved victory lap for “The Save” and reclaiming his spot among the elite, let’s take this moment to shine a light on another key element of Washington’s run: their two star centers.

A postseason for the ages

Again, it’s tough to deny that Kuznetsov was the real Conn Smythe winner.

He wasn’t that far behind Ovechkin’s 15 goals, as Kuznetsov netted 12. They both were tied with two game-winners in that regard.

The pivot’s playmaking was a sight to behold, as he collected almost a helper per game (20 assists in 24 contests).

It would be refreshing to see voters take especially strong work during the Stanley Cup Final into account, too. Now, Ovechkin was no slouch against the Golden Knights, generating three goals and two assists in five games. During that same span, Kuznetsov was killer, though, producing a goal and seven assists for eight points.

Kuznetsov’s 32 points weren’t just a playoff record for the Capitals and the top mark for the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. That mark also stands as the most points generated in a postseason since Evgeni Malkin collected a whopping 36 points during Pittsburgh’s 2008-09 surge. (Ovechkin’s 27 points leave him tied with Sidney Crosby‘s work last postseason for ninth best during that same period of time.)

Remarkably, Malkin’s 36 points and Kuznetsov’s 32 also stand as the two best outputs since the lockout wiped out the 2004-05 season; you need to go as far back as Joe Sakic’s 34 points from 1995-96 before you’ll find a total that dislodges Kuznetsov for second place.

Praising Kuznetsov isn’t about denigrating Ovechkin, who enjoyed a run for the ages and deserves to soak in the limelight after a decade of absorbing an unfair portion of Capitals criticism.

Instead, it’s about doing our best to make sure that his magical run isn’t lost in time.

“He was unbelievable,” Ovechkin said of Kuznetsov after the series, via the Associated Press. “He makes the magic over there.”

Backstrom shows his might

Kuznetsov managed to generate point after point even though it seemed like he might miss a game or more of the series thanks to a hard hit by Brayden McNabb. That thought dovetails nicely into much-needed praise for Nicklas Backstrom.

While you only need to glance at the very top of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs’ points leaders to notice Kuznetsov’s presence, Backstrom’s work was diluted by being limited to 20 games.

Despite clearly playing at less than 100 percent, Backstrom managed more than a point per contest, generating 23 in those 20 games. His assist on this Ovechkin power-play goal stood as a healthy reminder that it’s easy to scream “Cover Ovechkin’s office,” but it’s also easy to forget that the Capitals simply have the passers to make that bread-and-butter play so difficult to stop.

Seriously, acting as though it’s “easy” to stop that is the ultimate in armchair quarterbacking/defending. There aren’t many humans capable of getting that pass through an entire penalty kill unit, but Backstrom is one of them (Kuznetsov, too).

Of course, points aren’t everything. Luckily, Backstrom remained his Selke-level self during the postseason, allowing Barry Trotz to pick and choose matchups how he pleased. The Kuznetsov – Backstrom combination was instrumental in allowing the Capitals to go toe-to-toe with the Penguins’ scoring depth, the Lightning’s dangerous weapons, and the Golden Knights’ impressive top line.

For a player who suffered his own torment during clutch moments, Backstrom showed his toughness and made a real argument for how great he can be.

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Look, we can debate Ovechkin vs. Kuznetsov all day, but they were both fantastic. The point is to recall their efforts, not to mention great work by Holtby, Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, and others. Here’s hoping this post fights the fading of such memories.

Now, let’s get back to more important matters: bickering about Chris Pronger.

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.

Evgeny Kuznetsov back in Capitals lineup for Game 3 (Update)

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WASHINGTON — All signs point to Evgeny Kuznetsov returning to the Washington Capitals’ lineup for Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final Saturday night against the Vegas Golden Knights. (Update: The Capitals confirm he will play.)

The forward was a full participant for the second straight practice and while he gave a “we’ll see” response about returning for Game 3 and Capitals head coach Barry Trotz labeled him again as a game-time decision, it would be a major surprise if Kuznetsov doesn’t play. He took regular line rushes with Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson and everything looked back to normal.

Kuznetsov left Game 2 late in the first period of Washington’s 3-2 win and did not return after suffering an upper-body injury following a hit by Golden Knights defenseman Brayden McNabb. There was no penalty on the play and while Trotz talked about possible supplemental discpline after the game, his player didn’t agree.

“I saw him all the way. It’s a hockey play,” said Kuznetsov. “We hit their guys. They hit our guys. It’s just a hockey play and I’m never going to judge the referees or some players how they play. It’s not on me. But I don’t think that’s dirty, right?”

It looked bad, and when Kuznetsov failed to come back, it appeared to be an ominous sign for the Capitals. But a couple of days of rest and two practices have showed that he’ll likely get the green light for a return.

Said Kuznetsov: “I think I’m born lucky.”

MORE:
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

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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.

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.”

MORE:
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub
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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.

Capitals’ Kuznetsov ‘day-to-day’ with upper-body injury

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The Washington Capitals Game 2 came with a price on Wednesday night when they lost leading scorer Evgeny Kuznetsov on a high hit from Vegas Golden Knights defender Brayden McNabb in the first period.

Kuznetsov exited the game and did not return, setting the stage for Lars Eller to once again rise up and play a critical role in a win.

On Thursday, Capitals coach Barry Trotz revealed during a conference call that Kuznetsov is officially considered day-to-day with an upper-body injury.

When asked if Kuznetsov will be on the ice for practice on Friday, Trotz simply said that he did not know and could not answer that question.

[Related: Kuznetsov leaves Game 2 after McNabb’s hard hit]

Obviously, that leaves his status for Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final on Saturday night in Washington uncertain.

If he can not go it would be a pretty significant loss for the Capitals.

Kuznetsov is currently the NHL’s leading scorer this postseason and before exiting Wednesday’s game was riding an 11-game point streak. So far this postseason he has scored some massive goals for the Capitals, including a game-tying goal early in the third period of a pivotal Game 5 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and then scoring the series-clinching goal in overtime of Game 6.

That performance and those moments have made him one of the top contenders for the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP.

In his absence Lars Eller stepped in and scored another huge goal for the Capitals, something he has done on more than one occasion this postseason while filling in for one of the team’s injured centers.

MORE:
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.