- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 20, 2021

Evgeny Kuznetsov, who returned to the ice Wednesday night for the first time since May 1, confirmed Thursday that he tested positive for the coronavirus a second time.

Kuznetsov was placed on the coronavirus protocol list on May 4, after already spending time on the list early in the season. He had been activated off the coronavirus list Sunday after missing the previous two weeks.

The Washington Capitals center played over 26 minutes in Game 3 — his first action since May 1. Boston won 3-2 in double overtime, taking a 2-1 series advantage.

Because he had already dealt with one round of the coronavirus, Kuznetsov said he had an easier time recovering and returning to the ice. When he landed on the coronavirus list Jan. 20, he didn’t return to practice until Feb. 8, and he didn’t play in a game until Feb. 14.

“It’s funny, they said it’s not a lot of people get it twice, so it wasn’t easy to be in hockey shape right away after you sit in a house,” Kuznetsov said. “But, you know, emotions was high and for these type of games you always feel extra energy and you’ve been waiting for those type of games and you’ve been always enjoy it.”

The 29-year-old Russian native registered one shot in his 32 shifts in Game 3. He also won 45% of his faceoffs.

“Physically it may be a little bit hard today, but I hope I’m gonna get better every day,” Kuznetsov added. “I’m gonna skate more and more, and I’m gonna get in hockey shape much quicker that usually guys do from the virus.”

The series has already taken its toll on most players, going to overtime in all three games. Wednesday’s contest was the longest, lasting about 86 minutes — 26 minutes longer than a standard regulation game.

Kuznetsov’s return was a boost for Washington, especially because of the lack of depth at center. Lars Eller left Game 2 with a lower-body injury and didn’t appear in Game 3. His status is unknown for Game 4 on Friday.

Winger T.J. Oshie had been filling in at center with Kuznetsov out, but Oshie returned to the wing Wednesday, with winger Michael Raffl taking centerman duties instead. Nic Dowd and Nicklas Backstrom have been steady presences at the position, too.

With more natural centers available, the Capitals improved in the faceoff circle, winning 52.3% of the draws after losing 61% of them in the first two games.

“I thought he was good,” Laviolette said of Kuznetsov. “Twenty-six minutes coming off after 15 days is probably a daunting task for a lot of people, even a good skater like Kuzy. He, like everybody, you start to fatigue a little bit in those circumstances. But for the most part, I thought he did a pretty good job.”

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