Monday night at Wells Fargo Center, Evgeny Kuznetsov scored his first goal in 22 games. It was a gift from the Hockey Gods. Kuznetsov scored after a Justin Williams dump-in took a strange bounce off the boards. The puck ricocheted to Kuznetsov, who was skating alone towards the front of the net. Using sublime patience, Kuznetsov tucked the puck past Steve Mason’s outstretched pad, giving the Caps a back-breaking 3-1 third period lead.
Several minutes later, Kuznetsov was on the ice when he saw his friend, Dmitry Orlov, get shoved headfirst into the boards by Pierre-Édouard Bellemare. As Orlov received medical attention on the bench, a Flyers fan threw a bracelet from the stands, striking Orly in the left cheek.
In the locker room, Kuznetsov conducted a Russian-language interview with SovSport’s Natalia Bragilevskaya and spoke about how the game turned into a sideshow in the third period.
“No fan would be happy when his team is losing,” Kuznetsov said. “That’s how it happened, but it is on their conscience. Our fans have more class.”
Kuznetsov also seemed to be genuinely touched and heart-broken by the pre-game ceremony honoring Flyers owner Ed Snider.
The goal you scored seemed unexpected. Nobody realized what just happened.
Evgeny Kuznetsov: Justin Williams dumped the puck into their zone. It bounced from the boards right into the crease. We talked before the game that the glass here creates such bounces. So we need to dump the puck high. I just guessed where to skate, and it bounced right onto my stick. It was an awkward goal, but it doesn’t matter.
It seems Washington had an easy path to victory in all three games. Is that so?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: Only an amateur can think so. It is very difficult to play, the Flyers are pressing constantly. It just that we score the timely goals. We defend with three or four guys, block the shots. Our goalie is doing a lot for us. So we have a psychological advantage. We go on the ice and score. We need to have fewer penalties, play 5-on-5 more. They are a good opponent, but we need to show our game. And not let them do the same. We have a 3-0 lead, the Flyers are under pressure. The 4th game will be very important. We can’t let them have even a breath of air. The overall score in the series is not important. You have to prepare for every game. That’s our team mentality. If you start looking at the scoreboard, the score can change quickly. We cannot think about it. We want to accomplish something special this year.
Why are you confident that you are capable of that now?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: The team is very hungry to win. Everybody fights on the ice. We have a very cohesive team. I picked up a lot from one of the coaches who I worked with. He said, “there may be a few stars on the team. But if there is a team and a core inside, you can achieve a lot.”
Who is that coach?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: Doesn’t matter.
What did you know about the Flyers prior to this series?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: Absolutely everything. Just like they know about us. There are a lot of people working in hockey who scout the opponents. We even know which hand they eat with!
The Flyers fans are well known for their hooligan reputation, and they showed it. were you surprised?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: Nothing unexpected. No fan would be happy when his team is losing. That’s how it happened, but it is on their conscience. Our fans have more class.
The series is physical, there are a few injuries already.
Evgeny Kuznetsov: The game is so physical now, the more you get hit, the faster you switch in. We are hitting them as well, the Flyers are feeling it. But we stay within the rules, and they don’t always manage to do so. But that’s what the power play is for, we need to score a lot of power play goals.
After such clash there may not be any energy left for the next round.
Evgeny Kuznetsov: We practice a lot. Yes, we feel tired after the game. But we recover, and motivate each other. It gives us strength. We have four lines, and even though ice time is not the same, the load is shared by all.
Why didn’t Ovechkin score a hat trick?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: Ask him. He saved it for the future. Sasha does a lot for the team. I wanted for him to get a hat trick. Should have passed more to him when we were on a power play. I think he wasn’t upset, I am sure he was happy for the team. Two goals in a playoff game are worth a lot. Especially since he scored the winning goal. The goal he scored in the 2nd period was the key moment.
Was it hard to start the game following the ceremony for the late Flyers owner Ed Snider?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: For me – yes. I never had to deal with cancer. Now I understand how much it affects people. We honored his memory. But when the game started, we switched to hockey.
Translation by Igor Kleyner.
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