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Stanley Cup Final

Kuznetsov likely game-time decision for Capitals in Game 3 of Cup Final

Leading scorer in playoffs left Game 2 against Golden Knights with upper-body injury

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / NHL.com Staff Writer

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Evgeny Kuznetsov joined his Washington Capitals teammates on the ice for an optional practice Friday and could be a game-time decision for Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Vegas Golden Knights at Capital One Arena on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS).

The best-of-7 series is tied 1-1.

 

[RELATED: Complete Golden Knights vs. Capitals series coverage | Stanley Cup Final schedule]

 

The 26-year-old center sustained an upper-body injury when he was hit along the boards by Golden Knights defenseman Brayden McNabb at 14:42 of the first period of Game 2 on Wednesday. He did not return to the game and, according to coach Barry Trotz, had not been medically cleared to play as of Friday. 

Trotz called Kuznetsov day to day.

But according to Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, there might be room for optimism about the condition of Kuznetsov, who leads the Stanley Cup Playoffs with 25 points (11 goals, 14 assists) in 21 games.

"He's one of our top guys," Ovechkin said. "Of course, it's very important to see him skating, and I'm pretty sure he's going to be OK tomorrow."

Video: Breaking down the keys for both teams in Game 3

That seemed to be the general consensus around the Capitals dressing room.

"I was not surprised [he practiced] just after talking with him," forward Jay Beagle said. "He wanted to come back out there in the game, I think, but it just wasn't in the best interest, and I think him and the medical staff made the right call. He says he's feeling better today and that's a great sign."

Without Kuznetsov, the Capitals managed a 3-2 win against the Golden Knights in Game 2 at T-Mobile Arena. But it would be a significant blow to Washington if he cannot play in Game 3. 

"He's one of the most talented players in the League," Washington center Lars Eller said. "Maybe top-three most talented players in the League. Has he taken it to another level? I think he's been good all year. I think he was good last year. He has come up at key moments. He's been at his best when the stakes are the highest. Game 6 in Pittsburgh (when Kuznetsov scored at 5:27 of overtime in a 2-1 win to close the Eastern Conference Second Round against the Penguins) was a good example of him coming up at the most crucial time. 

"So yeah, I think he's elevated his game. We always talk about the timely goals in [the] playoffs and he's scored some timely goals for us."

Kuznetsov did not speak to the media officially Friday after practice but did appear relaxed and in a good mood when taking off his gear, chatting about Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday. 

He did not appear overly limited in practice, when he was a full participant, though he did seem to use his left hand less than usual in drills.  

"[Kuznetsov] is one of our most important players," Eller said. "He's an amazing talent and he can make the difference in any game. So we hope to have him back for tomorrow, but we'll see. If not, we've shown that we can overcome those kinds of losses."

If Kuznetsov cannot play in Game 3, he is likely to be replaced by Nicklas Backstrom, who filled in between Ovechkin and Tom Wilson for the remainder of Game 2. That would push Eller up to the second line, which also occurred earlier in the playoffs when Backstrom missed four games with a right hand injury.

"You don't ever want to miss a guy like him, [Backstrom]," Beagle said. "Those top-six guys are so valuable. Obviously, we want him back, but he's got to do what's best. So it's going to be up to him and the medical staff to make the right call."

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