Washington’s leading scorer in the playoffs left Wednesday’s Game 2 clutching his left arm after a big hit from Brayden McNabb and did not return. He took part in an optional practice Friday and the morning skate Saturday.
Kuznetsov said, “We’ll see if I’m in,” though all signs pointed to him being in the lineup. The 26-year-old Russian center took line rushes with Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson on Saturday and did not have any kind of visible brace on his left arm.
“It feels better every day,” Kuznetsov said. “In these type of games you always want to play, but you have to do better for your team and you have to understand it doesn’t matter who you are, what kind of player, you have to understand can you help the team or no. That’s the biggest part. You have to understand it and you have to communicate with the coaches, doctors and everybody, can you help the team?”
His 25 points are the most of any player this postseason. Just the sight of him on the ice after how bad the injury looked was uplifting to teammates.
“He’s back, he’s skating, so it’s pretty cool,” Ovechkin said.
If Kuznetsov is unable to play, the Capitals could move Lars Eller up the lineup, shift Chandler Stephenson to center and insert a young player like Shane Gersich, Nathan Walker or Travis Boyd. The Capitals went 3-1 without their other star center, Nicklas Backstrom, earlier in the playoffs and have shown they have the depth and talent to withstand a big loss.
“Everyone kind of fills in,” Wilson said. “We’ve done a good job at rallying around each other and coming closer as a group. That’s what’s great about hockey: A guy goes down, someone comes in and fills in. Guys have done a great job with that so far this season. It shouldn’t change going forward here.”