WASHINGTON – Asked if he’d given winning the Conn Smythe Trophy any thought, Evgeny Kuznetsov shook his head and grinned. Not a chance.
He’ll take a Stanley Cup victory, though.
The Washington Capitals routed the Vegas Golden Knights 6-2 in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday to take a commanding 3-1 lead. They’ll have a chance to claim their first championship in the franchise’s 43-year history on Thursday in Game 5 at T-Mobile Arena.
Kuznetsov hasn’t thought that far ahead, either.
"I never been there, you know? And I don't really care about that yet, so it's kind of easy for me," Kuznetsov said. "You know me, I always stay loose a little bit especially off the games. I'm pretty sure when game gonna come, we're gonna a little bit think about it. It's pretty hard to not think about that."
A front-runner for the Conn Smythe, Kuznetsov assisted on four of Washington’s six goals in Game 4 and has 31 points in 23 games. And while he has 12 goals this postseason, he’s just fine with getting the assists, too.
"He has a huge effect on every game," linemate Tom Wilson said. "It’s not easy to be a star in the league, have to bring it every night. It’s the wear and tear, you’re playing big minutes. He’s the kind of guy that doesn’t care. He just keeps going."
Vegas came out swinging in the early parts of Game 4, but James Neal hitting the post on a wide-open net in the first period underscored their frustration. The Capitals led 3-0 by the end of the opening stanza.
(Photo courtesy: Getty Images)
"I’ve been on the other side of that and it’s deflating," Capitals defenseman Brett Connolly said of Neal’s miss. "They played well early. They came at us and they’re not gonna stop."
Neal and Reilly Smith scored in the third to narrow the deficit to 4-2, but the Capitals responded with two more goals to send the Golden Knights’ Cinderella season to the brink of a heartbreaking end.
"It could have been a different hockey game if they scored on their power play so we got a little lucky there and I don’t know maybe it shouldn’t have been a 3-0 lead after the first, but you know we will take it," Capitals forward Nicklas Backstrom said. "We are not going to feel sorry for them."
The third period was punctuated by "We Want the Cup" chants from the crowd at Capital One Arena. Outside, streets were filled with thousands of fans chanting the same thing. Kuznetsov said the players heard that and fed off it, too.
"That's always emotional stuff and give us a lot of positive energy," Kuznetsov said. "But we feel their energy. I don't want to lie. Sometimes you feel when people cheering against you, you feel the energy too. In this playoff we're not very good at home, but in this series we keep the crowd happy. That's big thing for us."
What the Capitals did in Game 4, and what they’ll have to do in Game 5, is the same thing they’ve done this entire postseason - show up when it matters most.
"When it mattered we were able to get it done," coach Barry Trotz said. "And that’s what this team has done over the course of the playoffs. Even when we’re maybe not at our best we’ve been able to get it done and when it mattered we’ve been able to get it complete."