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Is Evgeny Kuznetsov ready to be a difference maker against the Penguins?

Is Evgeny Kuznetsov ready to be a difference maker against the Penguins?

One year ago the Caps managed to hold Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to only four combined points in six games. Alex Ovechkin outscored both with seven points. And yet, they still lost their second-round series to the Pittsburgh Penguins. While Ovechkin seemed to get the better of Pittsburgh’s two superstars, the Caps did not get enough offense from the rest of the rest of their roster, especially Evgeny Kuznetsov.

Kuznetsov was held to only a single point in that series. As the team’s second line center, he must be better if Washington hopes to overcome their playoff demons.

“Our line wasn't near good enough last year and we're looking to make an impact,” Justin Williams said prior to this year’s series. “We certainly need to if we're going to be successful.”

But being great in the playoffs, however, can be a challenge.

A player can sometimes takes the NHL by surprise in the postseason. When the rest of the league begins to recognize someone as a great player, however, and defenses begin to account for that player in the playoffs, success can be difficult to find.

The next step in a great player’s transition is to overcome that challenge when an opposing team begins to account for you.

“I think there's a growth pattern where you are a player that, you want to have good stats, you want to be successful and then there's a period of time where you're under the radar a little bit,” Barry Trotz said, “And you still want to be under the radar, but once you take the responsibility of being a difference maker or a guy who will be required or be responsible will be a difference maker then it's a little different mindset and I think he's crossing over.

“He knows that he's got to be a difference maker and he's going to play against top guys and he's going to be a guy that can't take nights off and has got to be detailed and has got to fight for his inches. I think he's accepted that and once you accept that then you become a real good player.”

“I think he's come to the realization that if we're going to do what we want to do this year, he's got to be a vital role,” Williams said.

Getting Kuznetsov to that point has been a focus of Trotz all season. It seems to have worked. Kuznetsov was more visible in Game 1 than he was in all six games last season and already matched his point total from that series with a goal.

Said Trotz, “I think he's adjusted, I think he's taken on the challenge, I think he's taken on the responsibility of being a top player.”

RELATED:  HOW TO WATCH: CAPITAVLS vs. PENGUINS, GAME 2

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How does Capitals' Evgeny Kuznetsov get ready for a Game 7? He watches TV

How does Capitals' Evgeny Kuznetsov get ready for a Game 7? He watches TV

Everyone remembers Evgeny Kuznetsov's series-clinching overtime goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2018. That goal now overshadows another series-clinching goal Kuznetsov had in 2015. In Game 7 against the New York Islanders, Kuznetsov scored what would prove to be the winning goal to break up a 1-1 tie. Clearly he knows how to get ready for a big game. His secret? Television.

Kuznetsov appeared on NBC Sports Washington's Capitals Greatest Hits show on Monday to talk about his 2015 performance and the topic of the locker room came up. Both teams went into that game knowing their season was on the line and Kuznetsov was asked if the feeling was any different in the locker room before the game, a question he did not know exactly how to answer.

"I'm never in the locker room," Kuznetsov said. "I'm always by the TV watching TV shows."

Yes, when Kuznetsov arrives at the arena, he apparently likes to watch TV before the game and said he is not in the locker room until only about 30 minutes before warmups. He enjoys watching soccer, but also likes a good movie.

"It's usually soccer games," Kuznetsov said. "If it's not the soccer game, it's whatever the movie's going."

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He went on to say he was thankful for the team subscribing to whatever channel it was that he watches movies on.

If this seems odd to you, there is a method to the madness.

"Usually it's movie because that way I'm not thinking about hockey," Kuznetsov said. "I like to be loose before games."

Hey, if that's what he was doing before Game 7 in 2015 and before Game 6 in 2018, it's hard to argue against it.

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Capitals Greatest Hits: How to watch Evgeny Kuznetsov's series-winning goal

Capitals Greatest Hits: How to watch Evgeny Kuznetsov's series-winning goal

In need of Memorial Day plans? Look no further as NBC Sports Washington presents the fifth and final edition of Capitals Greatest Hits on Monday, May 25, at 7 p.m. 

For this holiday edition of Capitals Greatest Hits, NBC Sports Washington will reair Game 7 of the 2015 Eastern Conference First Round playoff series between the Washington Capitals and the New York Islanders. 

As a special treat, Evgeny Kuznetsov, who delivered the series-winning goal for the Caps, will make a special appearance on the broadcast to talk about his Game 7 heroics from the win-or-go-home showdown.

What better way to cap off a holiday weekend than by reliving some Caps playoff glory with The Birdman himself?

How to Watch: Capitals’ Greatest Hits

Who: New York Islanders @ Washington Capitals — April 27, 2015

When: May 25 at 7 p.m.

Where: NBC Sports Washington (channel finder), stream on the NBC Sports MyTeams app

Guest: Washington Capitals star Evgeny Kuznetsov

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Broadcast Schedule

6:00 PM Capitals Greatest Hits Capitals vs Thrashers from March 21, 2008 (R)

7:00 PM Capitals Greatest Hits Capitals vs Islanders from April 27, 2015 (P)

8:00 PM 2018 Stanley Cup Championship Films: Washington Capitals (P)

10:00 PM #HockeyAtHome: The Great One & The Great Eight (R)

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