The Washington Capitals had a league-high seven 20-goal scorers during the regular season. Their depth scoring was one of the key ingredients in earning a fourth consecutive Metropolitan Division title.
That sharing of the wealth hasn’t translated, though, in the playoffs.
As the Capitals prepare for Game 7 of their first-round series against the Carolina Hurricanes [7:30 p.m., 1500AM], Jakub Vrana and Evgeny Kuznetsov are among the Capitals still searching for their first goal of the series.
For all the heavy lifting that Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom have done in the first round, the Capitals can’t afford to go much longer without more support. T.J. Oshie’s indefinite absence (broken clavicle), combined with the win-or-go-home nature of tonight’s Game 7, only raises the urgency for Vrana and Kuznetsov to start delivering.
Vrana has been held without a point in all six games this series. His longest pointless drought during the regular season was four games (Oct.10-17).
Vrana and Kuznetsov are expected to again play with Carl Hagelin on the second line. Between them, the trio has combined for two even-strength points in the series.
“I’m a confident player,” said Vrana, who had 24 goals and 47 points in 82 games during the regular-season. “I know I’m a good player. I know it’s about time to break[through].”
“It’s time for me to come out there and score goals,” he said. “Today, I’m going to use my legs and get into those areas and create some offense for our team.”
Vrana said that while his scoring hasn’t been there, he’s made it a point not to let it affect the other parts of his game — his play away from the puck, blocking shots, etc …
But is there any satisfaction from his offensive opportunities this series?
“Not really, to be honest,” he said. “I didn’t have much. I’ve tried to play as much for the team and do other stuff on the ice when I can’t score goals right now. But obviously I’m working at it.”
“It doesn’t matter what’s happened in the past, what’s happened in this series. It just comes down to one game. Today is important. I’m going to do everything I can to be the difference and to create those chances again and hopefully I get one tonight. Or more than one.”
Kuznetsov had a rough Game 6 and was moved down the depth chart for parts of the third period. After leading the playoffs in scoring last spring with 32 points in 24 games, Kuznetsov appeared passive at times in Round 1 this year.
All five of Kuznetsov’s points this series have come at home (two even-strength assists; three power-play assists) and coach Todd Reirden is hopeful he can take advantage of favorable matchups for Kuznetsov with the Capitals back home Wednesday night.
“He’s getting some chances, probably just not as many as he has in the past,” Reirden said of Kuznetsov.
“He’s not an unknown entity anymore so teams are coming up with a game plan and schemes to shut a player like him down. So, he’s fighting his way through that and I’m expecting him to have his best game of the series tonight.”
Kuznetsov has shown a knack for stepping up in big games. He scored the game-winning goal the last time the Capitals won a Game 7 at home (New York Islanders, 2015) and had the overtime game-winner when the Capitals eliminated the Penguins last spring in Round 2.
The third member of that second line, the veteran Hagelin, has an 8-1 lifetime record in Game 7s.
“You can probably ask every single guy on this team or in this league that this is where you want to be,” Hagelin said. “You want to play a big role in tonight’s game. What’s better than a Game 7?”
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