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Kuznetsov says Stanley Cup win still surreal, dreams of Capitals repeat

Forward describes emotion of bringing trophy to native Russia, believes Washington can do it again

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

The puck dropped with 0.6 seconds left. The horn sounded, and the Washington Capitals won the Stanley Cup, defeating the Vegas Golden Knights 4-3 in Game 5 of the Final at T-Mobile Arena on June 7.

And on the ice at the end, in the middle of the celebration, center Evgeny Kuznetsov felt …


"I dropped my gloves and can't understand," he said in a recent interview. "Where is the emotion? And it's no emotion."


[RELATED: Kuznetsov brings Stanley Cup to hometown of Chelyabinsk]


It was exhaustion more than exhilaration.

Kuznetsov had the best season of his career, setting NHL highs in goals (27) and points (83) in the regular season, leading the Stanley Cup Playoffs in scoring with 32 points (12 goals, 20 assists). The Capitals won their first championship.

But he played 103 games -- 79 in the regular season, 24 in the playoffs, more than ever before -- and now, finally, it was over. He said he was excited because he could go home and didn't have to go to practice for a while.

He stood on the ice with defenseman Dmitri Orlov and someone asked him, "Do you understand we won the Stanley Cup?" He partied in the locker room and at the hotel, yet asked himself, "Did we win the Stanley Cup?"

Video: Evgeny Kuznetsov takes the No. 12 spot on the list

"That feeling," he said. "It's still, like, is it real?"

Finally, Kuznetsov brought the Cup to Chelyabinsk, Russia, on Aug. 15, taking pictures with people for more than two hours at Traktor Ice Arena, holding the Cup over his head before a Kontinental Hockey League game.

"When Cup come to my hometown, that's the first time I understand what I did, what we did and what we won," Kuznetsov said. "That's the day when I understand Stanley Cup is huge for me and huge for whole organization and for the guys. …

"It's special day for my parents and my wife and my kid and for everybody, and I'm so proud of them because they were so proud of me. Five years ago, when I left from KHL to NHL, they believe in me. One day I'm going to bring the Stanley Cup to Russia.

"And they still believe."

Now Kuznetsov wants to bring it back.

Video: Reviewing Evgeny Kuznetsov's playoff performance

Individually, Kuznetsov, 26, wants to maintain the level at which he played last season, while improving his 45.1 career face-off percentage and playing on the penalty kill under new coach Todd Reirden. He played 4:35 on the PK last season under Barry Trotz, total.

"The biggest thing for me: Don't lose anything," he said. "I want to be consistent. … Of course I'm going to get stronger on the face-off. … If someone going to put me on the PK, they're not going to give me a lot of time, a lot of opportunities. I only have two, three times maybe, and I have to take it right away. I have to do it like Coach said. If not, you're not going to play on the PK.

"Why I want to play on the PK? That way you can be in the game every time. You don't see [the ice] sometimes for five minutes or whatever. At the same time, PK, power play, you're in the game. I need to be in the game."

Collectively, Kuznetsov wants the Capitals to buy in under Reirden the way they did under Trotz in the playoffs. He said he had spoken often with Reirden and likes the way he thinks the game, tapping his head for emphasis.

Video: Todd Reirden is named the Capitals' new head coach

"That's why we have a great coach, and he already has a plan," he said. "He going to give us the plan, and we have to stay with that plan. If it's bad or good for you, doesn't matter. You have to stay with the team, and you have to play like a team.

"So if you play good in your position, good. Don't worry about other guys. They have to worry about themselves. If everyone going to be good, so whole team going to be good. If something bad over there, of course, we can help them, but just have to worry about your position on the ice.

"I mean, just the small details on the ice, you have to be patient, because when we get the puck, the transition, our team can play so quick. We can go 2-on-1, 3-on-1, so easily. We just have to defend well like we defend in playoff."

At the 2018 Player Media Tour last week, asked players to name a Cup favorite other than their teams. Kuznetsov refused to play along.

"I think we're going to win," he said.

Asked for a team other than the Capitals, he said, "Nobody."

It's almost like he wants a do-over or two of the big moment.

"You can see fans, you can see people, they're, like, 'Oh, congrats! Congrats!'" he said. "And now I start understand. So Stanley Cup, it means a lot. Can you imagine the people who got three Stanley Cups? How cool is that, yeah? That's unbelievable."

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