Wed, May 09, 2018 - Page 16 News List

Kuznetsov fires Caps to conference finals

AP, PITTSBURGH, Pennsylvania

Evgeny Kuznetsov of the Washington Capitals, left, scores the game-winning goal past Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Matt Murray, center, in Game 6 of their NHL playoff series in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on Monday.

Photo: AP

A cathartic celebration 20 years in the making began with a poke of Evgeny Kuznetsov’s stick.

It built as the puck that Kuznetsov tapped away from Sidney Crosby made its way to Washington Capitals teammate Alexander Ovechkin.

It neared its crescendo as Ovechkin flipped it back to Kuznetsov, who at that point had split two Penguins and was streaking toward the Pittsburgh net.

It culminated jubilantly and unexpectedly in the corner moments later, with the puck in the net and Kuznetsov’s teammates mobbing him after he ended two decades of frustration with a flick of the Russian’s wrist.

The ghosts of past playoff failures, many of them at the hands of the Penguins, were gone.

Dispatched over the course of six games of grit and guile, the last a 2-1 overtime win in Game 6 on Monday that gave Washington a 4-2 series victory and a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals against Tampa Bay.

“It’s pretty emotional,” Kuznetsov said after his seventh goal of the playoffs 5 minutes, 27 seconds into overtime pushed the Capitals into the NHL’s final four for just the third time in franchise history. “I don’t really have a word for it.”

Maybe because there are not many that can accurately describe the anguish Washington have felt during much of the Ovechkin era, one filled with post-season failure after post-season failure, many of them coming with the team on the precipice of a breakthrough.

Only this time they did not crumble.

Even with Nicklas Backstrom, Tom Wilson and Andre Burakovsky out.

Even with a handful of rookies — including Australian Nate Walker — thrust into the lineup.

Even on the road against two-time defending champions with a special knack for torment.

“Again, it doesn’t matter what happened [before],” Ovechkin said. “We have to stick together. We knew it was there, we just had to battle and we just had to fight through it.”

“We beat the Pittsburgh Penguins today, and they’re a hell of a hockey team and we’re only halfway,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. “We haven’t done anything yet. It’s a good feeling getting by the Penguins because there’s a lot of skeletons in the closet. It’s a start.”

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