- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 24, 2018

TAMPA, Fla. — Andre Burakovsky was a healthy scratch when the Washington Capitals last played at Amalie Arena. It was Game 5, a mere four days before Wednesday’s Game 7. The Tampa Bay Lightning controlled that game and went up 3-2 in the Eastern Conference finals, putting the Capitals on the brink.

Around that time, Burakovsky said he wanted to see a sports psychologist to overcome his tendency to be too hard on himself. But Wednesday morning, something was feeling right for him. Maybe that self-critical instinct gave him a break. He told Nicklas Backstrom he had a good feeling about how he’d play in Game 7.

Burakovsky may still seek help this summer — whatever will be best for him. For one night in May, that inner voice was thrown aside, and he performed up to his standard.

The unlikely hero of the Capitals’ series-clinching win, Burakovsky scored two goals from the third line that sealed Washington’s 4-0 victory and their trip to the Stanley Cup Final next week.

“We didn’t stop playing at all,” Burakovsky said. “We stuck with the game, still tried to outwork them, even with 30 seconds left we still went after them. That’s the spirit we had all postseason. Just wearing this hat, this T-shirt, it’s a dream coming true. But we’re not there yet. We have a long way to go.”

Burakovsky said he was glad his goals “meant a lot for the team,” but don’t blame him for also reflecting on his postseason of individual adversity — an upper-body injury that kept him out of the Pittsburgh series, no points before Wednesday night and that healthy scratch.

“I’ve been out for a while a little bit, with the injury. It hasn’t been easy for me,” Burakovsky said. “I was working really hard to get back as fast as possible. It feels really good to help the team to get a win, and be a part of this team.”

Both goals came in the second period, when Tampa Bay was outshooting the Capitals as they clung to a tenuous one-goal lead. Burakovsky stole a puck from Dan Girardi as he tried to settle it on the ice and immediately took his shot, which flew past Andrei Vasilevskiy. Late in the second, he took a pass from John Carlson on the forecheck and stuffed it in Vasilevskiy’s five-hole.

Burakovsky’s surprise breakout night also feeds into the trend of players up and down the lineup stepping up for the Capitals. He was the 17th different player to score for Washington this postseason; the league record is 21 different players, according to the NHL.

Capitals coach Barry Trotz was “very happy” for the 23-year-old forward.

“Burky’s one of those guys, when he has lots of confidence lots of jump, he feels good,” Trotz said. “Something we’ve been working on for a while is getting him to think of more positive things, not why or if you don’t score. … (He) takes it too hard personally if he doesn’t think he’s played up to his personal standard.”

Burakovsky received visible support on the bench, particularly from his captain. Alex Ovechkin was pumped up after Burakovsky’s second goal.

“He said ‘f—-ing right.’ That’s just his word,” Burakovsky said. “He said, ‘Stick with it, you’re playing good.’ And then he said, ‘Keep your shifts down a little bit,’ so he was joking a little bit too.”

Backstrom thought back to Wednesday morning and said Burakovsky was right — “that was a good feeling” the young winger had.

“I feel like maybe Tampa were pressuring at the most during the second (period) and we got two quick ones there by Andre and that’s huge,” Backstrom said. “That’s what you need. You need it from everybody and tonight was Andre’s time.”

• Adam Zielonka can be reached at azielonka@washingtontimes.com.

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