Ilya Kovalchuk said the Washington Capitals were playing well enough to win the Stanley Cup at the time the NHL season was paused.
"We were ready," Kovalchuk told the Cam & Strick Podcast earlier this month. "In the last few games we played really well."
Kovalchuk played seven games for Washington after he was traded Feb. 23 by the Montreal Canadiens for a third-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft. The forward had four points (one goal, three assists) for the Capitals, who were 3-2-2 after he joined them but got a point their final three games before the NHL season was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus.
"It's taking me a little time to adjust to the system and everything, but a great group of guys and was very excited to be there," Kovalchuk said. "So hopefully … we are going to finish the season and [the Stanley Cup Playoffs] will start."
Kovalchuk played his first 17 games of the season for the Los Angeles Kings before he was scratched for 18 straight games, was waived and had his contract terminated Dec. 17. He signed with Montreal on Jan. 3 and scored 13 points (six goals, seven assists) in 22 games for the Canadiens.
"In L.A. I didn't play much this year, and I missed like almost a month," Kovalchuk said. "So when I got there (to Montreal), the team was great, the atmosphere, the fans, it's unbelievable. I was there for a month and a half but it feels like home. ... It's a great group of guys, I think there's a bright future in front of them."
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Kovalchuk was in the second season of a three-year contract with the Kings that was worth $6.25 million annually. He is now playing on a one-year, two-way contract worth $700,000 in the NHL and said he has no plans to retire.
"It was my decision that I wanted to cancel that contract and start over again because my dream is to win the Cup," Kovalchuk said. "If it's going to take that way, then it's OK. It's different, it's tougher, it takes a little more than what I thought, but that's what it's all about. Life is about challenges."
Kovalchuk has played in the Stanley Cup Playoffs three times in his 12 previous NHL seasons. The only time he advanced, he helped the New Jersey Devils reach the 2012 Stanley Cup Final, which they lost to the Kings.
The 37-year-old said he believed he had a chance to return there with the Capitals this season, playing with his friend Alex Ovechkin for the first time in the NHL.
Washington (41-20-8) had the second-worst record in the NHL in February (4-7-1; the Detroit Red Wings were 3-11-1) but is one point ahead of the Philadelphia Flyers for first place in the Metropolitan Division.
"It's not just because [Ovechkin's] my buddy, but it's a great chance to win something special," Kovalchuk said. "I think that group of guys, they're ready. They're experienced, they're healthy, they're big, strong."