Friday: Amazingly, Kuznetsov is on the ice at the Capitals option skate this morning. No word on whether he’ll play tomorrow, as Trotz still claims he has not been cleared to return to game action.
Thursday: The Washington Capitals came away with a big road win in Game Two of the Stanley Cup Final last night, but they also lost a key contributor in the match-up. The postseason’s leading scorer, Evgeny Kuznetsov, was forced out of the game early after he was the recipient of a hip check into the boards from Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Brayden McNabb. Speaking to the media earlier, head coach Barry Trotz offered no update on Kuznetsov’s condition, other than to say that he is “day-to-day” with an undisclosed upper body injury, reports Isabelle Khurshudyan of The Washington Post. Trotz seemed unsure if Kuznetsov would be available for Friday’s practice as he deals with this injury, but hopes to give a more educated update tomorrow.
The hit in question (video) seems to show the brunt of the impact landing on the right elbow and forearm area of Kuznetsov. If Kuznetsov suffered a break of any kind in that area, it would severely limit his stick-handling ability and would likely mean the end of his season. If he cannot return in the series, it would be a major blow to Washington’s Cup hopes. Kuznetsov has 25 points this postseason, including eleven goals, and had been on an 11-game point streak as well. Should the Capitals go on to win the series, the 26-year-old center would likely be one of the favorites to win the Conn Smythe Trophy.
For what it’s worth, Kuznetsov’s teammates do not seem overly concerned about his availability. Alexander Ovechkin told Khurshudyan that he’s “sure he’s going to be fine”, while Nicklas Backstrom offered an open-ended “We’ll see what happens”. If Kuznetsov does miss any time, it is also comforting to Washington players, personnel, and fans alike that Lars Eller performed well when he was forced to take over Kuznetsov’s ice time last night. Eller’s tenure in Washington has not been without bumps in the road, but he has taken his play to a new level in these playoffs. It would not be easy to fill the shoes of the postseason’s most dangerous forward, but Eller seems to be up for the task if called upon.