Game 5 was the best of the series for Washington and it’s not hard to figure out why. When the Caps needed their best players to step up, just about every one of them did.
“When you have your back against the wall a little bit which we have because we've lost three games in this series, I think you look for people, your leaders to make a moment, make a difference,” Barry Trotz said in a conference call with the media Sunday.
Among those leaders? Evgeny Kuznetsov.
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Kuznetsov scored the game-winning goal on Saturday and has had a major impact on this series with four goals and one assist in five games. This entire postseason represents a dramatic rebound from last year’s postseason in which Kuznetsov managed only one goal and one assist in 12 games. Through 11 games this year, he already has eight points.
“[Kuznetsov] understands what the playoffs bring, meaning that you've got to fight for inches, you're not going to have as much room,” Trotz said. “I think he understands that it's a process that, I think he learned from last year, that you’ve really got to work for your inches. … I think it's just a mental attitude that he's embraced the playoffs.”
The storyline coming out of last season’s loss to Pittsburgh was the Caps’ lack of secondary scoring. Kuznetsov’s lack of production was as big a reason as any why Washington was dispatched by their archrivals in six games.
While the team made moves in the offseason to boost the offense from the bottom six, there was also a recognition from the coaching staff and the player that Kuznetsov has to play a significant role on the Caps in order for the team to be successful.
The fact that the coaches seemed to place more confidence on Kuzentsov this season, even after last year’s playoff disappointment, seems to have sparked more confidence in the young center which has translated to more postseason production.
And it’s a good thing too, because Washington can’t win without him.
“He's at a place where I think he understands that he is a big part of our team, not only now, but going forward,” Trotz said. “I think that's a comfort level or a confidence that is given to him by the responsibility and his position on the team.”
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