The Capitals’ win Saturday is proving to be more important by the day.
Simply, to take a 1-0 lead over the Bruins with backup goalie Craig Anderson in net with a Capitals team that played well in front of him was a massive positive to take into Game 2. But the second reason is that, absent center Evgeny Kuznetsov and goaltender Ilya Samsonov, the Capitals gave themselves a bit of breathing room in what’s sure to be a long and draining series.
Kuznetsov and Samsonov have been on the team’s COVID-19 list since May 4 and haven’t played in a game since May 1. Both were on the COVID list early in the season as well.
Both players returned to the ice for the team’s optional skate Sunday, though, which indicates they’re inching closer to a return to the ice. But it’s unclear if they’re ready quite yet.
“Samsonov is off the list and he’s available,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “Kuznetsov still remains not available to us for a few more days, however, he is available to start a process of getting back with our group and working out by the rules. Both players join us on the ice for the first time today.”
With Vitek Vanecek injured (and listed as day-to-day by Laviolette), it’s unclear who would backup Anderson, the presumed starter, for Game 2. Samsonov is available, but he hasn’t played since May 1 and his conditioning levels are still unknown.
“We’re going to evaluate and see where they’re at,” Laviolette said. “I have no timetables, they’ll be pushing close on to two weeks with regards to being on the ice and working out and conditioning, so we’re going to evaluate them over the next couple days and try to get a read on where they’re at.”
When asked directly if Samsonov will be ready for Game 2 and given a sweater, Laviolette declined to comment.
“I’m going to focus on what’s directly in front of me and the fact that we’ve had great goaltending,” Laviolette said. “I’ve got a goaltender that just came back, is on the ice for the first time today, and we’re going to evaluate and see where he’s at.”
Samsonov played in 19 games this season with a .902 save percentage and a 2.69 goals against average. From March 1 until he was put on the COVID list, though, he had a .918 save percentage and a 2.24 GAA in 16 games.
Kuznetsov had 29 points in 41 games this season and would likely fill in as the top-line center with Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson on his wings when he returns. That would allow Nicklas Backstrom to center a second line with Anthony Mantha and T.J. Oshie and put Lars Eller back as third-line center.