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After Second Bout with COVID, Kuznetsov Ready to Help Caps

The 29-year-old is ready to turn the page and prove his worth following a lengthy absence for Washington.

Washington Capitals v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images

As the Washington Capitals closed out the regular season, Evgeny Kuznetsov found himself at home, facing a familiar yet unfamiliar situation.

Following a scratch due to “disciplinary reasons,” the 29-year-old was placed on the COVID-19 protocol list and was out for 15 days after testing positive for the second time this year. He rejoined the team following Game 1 against the Boston Bruins and, after just a couple of skates, suited up for Game 3.

“I think it’s nice to be back, you know? Right away to playoff hockey, it’s always fun, it’s all we’ve been dreaming about,” Kuznetsov said. “Of course it wasn’t easy, but I believe that’s for everybody, it isn’t easy. We’ve been having fun and enjoying the game and it will be a long series I hope and we’re gonna play great hockey.”

Kuznetsov logged 26:41 minutes in Game 3 and spent 4:56 of that on the man advantage. He also won 45 percent of his draws, while also registering one hit and one shot on goal.

Head coach Peter Laviolette had said that the team was “working through some things” in the locker room with Kuznetsov and others over the course of his absence, but ultimately, he liked what he saw from the forward in his return after missing seven games.

“I thought he was good,” Laviolette said. “[Skating] 26 minutes coming off after 15 days is probably a daunting task for a lot of people, even a good skater like Kuzy. He, like everybody, you start to fatigue a bit in those circumstances. But for the most part, I thought he did a pretty good job.”

Following his second battle with coronavirus, Kuznetsov said he knew what the recovery process would be like from experience, which helped him focus on getting back up to speed quicker.

Still, he acknowledged the difficulties that COVID presents, and wasn’t afraid to admit that the road to getting better has proved to be a challenge.

“It’s funny, you know? It’s not a lot of people get twice, right? It wasn’t easy to be in hockey shape right away after you sit in a house, you know?” Kuznetsov explained. “But emotions was high, and in these types of games, you feel extra energy.”

Ultimately, the Russian center said that he’s locked in and is committed to playing hockey and practice as he works toward getting back to 100 percent and move forward.

“You’ve been waiting for those types of games and you always enjoy it, and physically maybe a little bit harder today, but I hope I'm gonna get better every day. I’m gonna skate more and I’m gonna get in hockey shape much quicker than usually guys do from the virus.”

With the Caps trailing Boston 2-1 following their double overtime loss Wednesday, they know the priority is to generate offense and scoring chances as the Bruins succeeded in limiting several of their scoring chances and controlling the tempo for a majority of the game.

“I’ve been always that guy who’s always believed in the patience. You have to wait, you have to be patient during the game and you have to take what they give you,” Kuznetsov said. “Sometimes, you can see during the game, there’s areas that open up and that’s quick communications. But to me in this series, the most important discipline [is to] be patient and work harder that day, you know? If you can always work, some chances we’ll create and some areas open up.”

In the end, Washington is doing what it can to maintain “only positive vibes,” which is the mentality the team is boasting for the postseason, per Nicklas Backstrom.

Kuznetsov agreed and added that he believes the team can rebound and find success if they continue to push.

“I just hope, I believe that it will be long series, it will be great series, and the longer we’re gonna stay with our plan and execute everything, we’re gonna have chances for sure,” Kuznetsov said.