ChimeraGoal

Photo credit: Chris Gordon

Photo credit: Chris Gordon

Woo! (Photo credit: Alex Brandon)

For the last four seasons, the Capitals had been on a steady decline. During their Bruce Boudreau era runs for Presidents’ Trophy, they were D.C.’s team. For fans since the 70’s and young transplants in suits, Rocking the Red was all the rage.

In 2011, the team started going downhill. Boudreau was fired, with three coaches taking his place since then. Meanwhile, the Nationals got good. The Caps were no longer fashionable. The hockey wasn’t the same either. Instead of exciting run-and-gun matches, the Caps played overly defensive games and then, under Adam Oates, just plain bad ones, missing the playoffs for the first time in seven years. Despite claiming a sellout every night, Verizon Center was littered with empty purple seats.

But with Washington’s comeback victory in game two, the spark was lit. On Thursday, the Phone Booth was red, proud, and loud. The Caps dominated, beating the Islanders 5-1 and taking a 3-2 series lead.

“We love this,” Karl Alzner, who scored Thursday, told me. “The fact that we see everybody getting excited for it and feeling good about our team and about our chance at winning some games, that’s what’s exciting for us.”

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World, Meet Evgeny Kuznetsov

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Photo: Rob Carr

There was a time when we doubted he’d ever show up, but, last March, Evgeny Kuznetsov finally came to the Caps. Three KHL seasons after George McPhee winked at a TSN camera and drafted the young Russian, Kuznetsov left his hometown team, Trakor Chelyabinsk, to live in Alex Ovechkin’s house in Arlington, Va., and play North American hockey. Thursday night was his coming out party.

After going scoreless in his first four career playoff games, Kuznetsov tallied two goals and an assist in game five. It wasn’t so much that he scored or recorded a team-high three points, it was the confidence that Kuznetsov oozed. We saw it on display all the time in the KHL– from his wacky celebrations, brash interviews, and constant production of highlight-reel plays– but that swagger hasn’t come easily this season. Kuznetsov had to learn a new position, center, and he had to learn how to be successful in a new, nuanced system under veteran head coach Barry Trotz. On top of that, the 22 year old had to learn a new culture and language.

On Thursday, those struggles and insecurities evaporated in front of 18,506 at Verizon Center. It was beautiful to watch.

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Evgeny Kuznetsov just scored his first career NHL playoff goal. After winning a face-off right back to Karl Alzner, Kuzy skated hard to the net and set up camp in front of Jaro Halak. Alzner’s point shot was blocked, but Marcus Johansson managed to chip it up into the air, where Kuznetsov batted the puck into the net baseball-style.

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This is random timing, but why not?

Over the summer, Andre Burakovsky and Evgeny Kuznetsov participated in the NHL Rookie Showcase. The Caps teammates signed autographs and took photos for their first NHL trading cards. We also noticed they held hands with other NHL rookies and figure skated for reasons that were never completely clear.

Almost nine months later, now we know: Upper Deck hired a semi-professional figure skater to teach the rookies some… uh… new moves.

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When the Caps played the Pens a few months ago, Alex Ovechkin slashed Kris Letang in the ankles, sending that game into pure chaos. On the next face-off, Chris Kunitz infinitely cross-checked Ovechkin. The Russian machine responded with infinite laughter.

It seems like Ovechkin’s best buddy Evgeny Kuznetsov learned from that example. On Sunday, Tyler Kennedy shoved Kuzy and was greeted with a laugh.

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Evgeny Kuznetsov just authored one of the most beautiful assists of the season. As he skated around the Bruins’ net, Kuznetsov threw a no-look pass behind-his-body to Marcus Johansson, crashing the net. Tuukka Rask, who was following Kuznetsov around the net, was caught off guard by the play, and Joe Hanson tapped the puck home for his 20th goal of the season– a career high.

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Photo: Capstagram

Last night, the Washington Capitals found out that they had earned a playoff spot while flying back to DC from Detroit. According to the Caps’ Mike Vogel, there was a “loud cheer on the plane as [the] boys learned the news.”

If that wasn’t endearing enough, the Caps took a ridiculous celebration picture as Mike Green, Nicklas Backstrom, and Alex Ovechkin emerged from the plane. They smiled for the camera flailing their arms like it was an R. Kelly video.

Ovechkin didn’t stop there. Not even a little.

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Soccer legend Lionel Messi and the Argentinian national soccer team are in Washington DC this week for a friendly against El Salvador on Saturday.

After taking in a Wizards game earlier in the week, Messi met with Alex Ovechkin— one of Messi’s biggest fans– to exchange jerseys. Ovi totally fanboyed.

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Photo: Alex Brandon

10:45 AM Update: 12 hours later, the NHL has finally credited Kuznetsov with the goal.

Original Post: (Before you read this, know that the NHL is still crediting Matt Niskanen with the OTGWG, which is incorrect.)

If you ever wanted to understand how far Evgeny Kuznetsov has come as a hockey player, his game-winning goal against the Devils– and the seconds before that– are all you need to see.

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Photo: @kuzy092

On Monday, Evgeny Kuznetsov did a Russian language interview with Sport FM radio host Vladimir Dekhtyarev. Kuznetsov gabbed about his season to date and explained what it has been like playing under Barry Trotz.

“His plan was easy to understand,” Kuznetsov said, as translated by Fedor Fedin. “It was hard though to do all the little things that he demands, everything, even what side to place the stick on. Nothing escapes his attention. He watches very carefully and it was tough to change early on.”

The interview even features a cameo by Dmitry Orlov who started talking while in the car. Check it out.

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