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With 7 shots and an assist, Andre Burakovsky picks up where he left off for Caps

With 7 shots and an assist, Andre Burakovsky picks up where he left off for Caps

Andre Burakovsky’s return from injury surely was a memorable one.

On Saturday night, the Capitals winger registered 11 shot attempts—including a season-high seven on goal—and an assist as Washington earned a pivotal 5-3 win in Tampa.

It would probably be a stretch to say Burakovsky’s absence was a big reason for the Caps’ recent malaise. But it wouldn’t be a stretch, at all, to say the 22-year-old injected a bit of much-needed hunger and hustle into the lineup at Amalie Arena.

“It’s been a long time since my legs has been this good,” Burakovsky said. “I think I was flying. I was creating chances. Everything felt good.”

Burakovsky’s burst, top gear and tenacity did indeed jump out.

RELATED: Caps clinch playoff berth for third straight season

The reason? He said it's because of the conditioning work he put in with strength coach Mark Nemish over the past month while on injured reserve with a broken hand.

“I’ve been working very hard with Nemo in the gym and on the ice,” Burakovsky said. “I’m in phenomenal shape right now. It felt really good to be back.”

In fact, Burakovsky said his skating is much further along than the other parts of his game...namely his shot accuracy. Three of his 11 attempts got blocked while another missed the net.

“I was creating a lot of chances but I was struggling a little bit with my shot,” he said. “But not because of my hand. I don’t know what it was. I haven’t been shooting on a real goalie for a while. I was creating a lot of chances but I couldn’t get any in the back of the net. Out of those shots, I need to get at least one. But a good team win today.”

Burakovsky added: “There was a bunch of times when I was shooting where the puck just hit his chest, just don’t want to do what I want. I’m always trying to pick a corner. I had so many good chances where I definitely should have scored.”

A couple of those prime scoring chances came late in the second period of a tied game. First, Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy turned Burakovsky away at the doorstep with a brilliant toe save. Then, a few minutes later, the Bolts netminder plucked a high, hard wrist shot out of the air from close range.

Burakovsky did, though, find his way onto the scoresheet in the third period when he fed the puck to the point, where Matt Niskanen hammered a shot on net. Justin Williams got his stick on the puck, redirecting it past Vasilevskiy to put the Caps ahead 3-2 and give Burakovsky his first point since Feb. 7—the game before he suffered the injury.

The big question coming into Saturday was whether Burakovsky would be able to pick up where he left off. After all, he was on a tear when he got hurt, having recorded six goals and 13 points in the 12 previous games.

The answer is a resounding, ‘Yes.’

“I’m still a little bit rusty with my shooting,” Burakovsky conceded. “But it’s going to come back, and it’s going to come back pretty soon.”

MORE CAPITALS: Caps clinch playoff berth for third straight season

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What should the NHL look like when the season resumes? Caps GM weighs in on the possibilities

What should the NHL look like when the season resumes? Caps GM weighs in on the possibilities

The NHL season has been paused for two weeks and, with no real timetable for an end to the COVID-19 pandemic, no one knows when the season could resume. Whenever it does, there is no question that the season format will have to be tweaked in some way to account for the special circumstances. Because of that, just what the season should look like when play resumes has become a major topic of discussion in hockey circles.

Alex Ovechkin said on Thursday that he would like to see the league jump straight into the playoffs. On Monday, Caps general manager Brian MacLellan weighed in.

"Fair to me would be all teams play the same number of games, both home and away," he said on a conference call, "So depending on the time you have when we come back or if we come back, you could set the schedule at 72, 74 games, close to possible of home and away if you could even those out and then kind of go from there after that."

For MacLellan, the biggest issues are the quality of play in the playoffs and the readiness of the players for that high-intensity hockey.

“I think ideally if time permitted, you would like a few games, but I would also be OK with jumping in the playoffs. I think for the benefit of the quality of play and the players’ health, ideally you’re playing a few games before you enter the playoffs.”

"It's going to be a challenge," he added. "We're going to end up being at least two months off, and to come in at various levels of conditioning -- some of it out of the players' hands -- it's going to be a hard thing to accomplish, to get players into game shape and send them into a playoff-type situation almost immediately."

One issue is that even when the coronavirus is under control, that doesn't mean the threat is totally gone. Unless there is a vaccine, should the NHL return this season certain precautions will have to be taken when the players return to begin practicing.

MacLellan said the team is discussing the possibility of small group skates and what precautions the team can take at its practice facility, MedStar Capitals Iceplex, to help prevent any of the players from contracting the virus.

"We've talked about that scenario taking place where we get on the other side of the virus curve and there's beginnings of you can have small groups," MacLellan said. "Could we structure something at [Medstar Capitals Iceplex] where we're bringing in three, four guys at a time? How do we handle sanitizing the training room, the equipment room? We've gone through these scenarios to be prepared if that becomes the case. If they say in June, OK you can start doing this, as an organization we want to be prepared for it. So that is a possibility and we're discussing it internally."

These are issues that must be discussed because the NHL is adamant that the Stanley Cup be awarded this year and that means probably playing hockey deep into the summer.

"I think depending on how the country, the world handles the virus, I think there is a possibility of playing end of June, July, August," MacLellan said. "I think the league is prepared, they've asked for building dates in August so I'm assuming it's a serious consideration on their part."

Just what that hockey will look like, however, is anyone's guess. There are still too many questions and too many unknowns about the league's possible return for there to be any definitive playoff format for the 2019-20 season. Until there is some clarity on when play may resume and how much time there will be for the remainder of the current season, then everyone remains in the dark.

"There's no set answer to it because I don't know how much time we're going to have," MacLellan said. "If we have eight weeks, do we have ten weeks, do we have more than 10 weeks? Depending on that time frame and if that's even legitimate at the time, you would have to set your schedule there. So could you shorten a series? Could you shorten the end of the schedule? I think all those options are on the table and I think it's just how the virus plays out and how we handle it and how much time we would have to get a season in if we could get a season in at the end."

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WATCH: Carl Hagelin is staying in shape by working out with his daughter

WATCH: Carl Hagelin is staying in shape by working out with his daughter

One of the biggest challenges for professional athletes during this coronavirus pandemic is keeping in shape. The lack of practices and games has forced them to find other ways to work out.

Capitals forward Carl Hagelin is doing his best to keep his legs ready for the return of the NHL season by high stepping in his front yard—with his one-year-old daughter Blanche.

If anything good has come out of this outbreak, it’s been the influx of home videos from athletes hanging out with their families.

Hagelin hasn’t posted much on Instagram since the social distancing guidelines went into effect, but this video with Blanche is already one of the best that’s come from a Capitals player so far.

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