Andre Burakovsky’s return from injury surely was a memorable one.
On Saturday night, the Capitals winger registered 11 shot attempts—including a season-high seven on goal—and an assist as Washington earned a pivotal 5-3 win in Tampa.
It would probably be a stretch to say Burakovsky’s absence was a big reason for the Caps’ recent malaise. But it wouldn’t be a stretch, at all, to say the 22-year-old injected a bit of much-needed hunger and hustle into the lineup at Amalie Arena.
“It’s been a long time since my legs has been this good,” Burakovsky said. “I think I was flying. I was creating chances. Everything felt good.”
Burakovsky’s burst, top gear and tenacity did indeed jump out.
The reason? He said it's because of the conditioning work he put in with strength coach Mark Nemish over the past month while on injured reserve with a broken hand.
“I’ve been working very hard with Nemo in the gym and on the ice,” Burakovsky said. “I’m in phenomenal shape right now. It felt really good to be back.”
In fact, Burakovsky said his skating is much further along than the other parts of his game...namely his shot accuracy. Three of his 11 attempts got blocked while another missed the net.
“I was creating a lot of chances but I was struggling a little bit with my shot,” he said. “But not because of my hand. I don’t know what it was. I haven’t been shooting on a real goalie for a while. I was creating a lot of chances but I couldn’t get any in the back of the net. Out of those shots, I need to get at least one. But a good team win today.”
Burakovsky added: “There was a bunch of times when I was shooting where the puck just hit his chest, just don’t want to do what I want. I’m always trying to pick a corner. I had so many good chances where I definitely should have scored.”
A couple of those prime scoring chances came late in the second period of a tied game. First, Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy turned Burakovsky away at the doorstep with a brilliant toe save. Then, a few minutes later, the Bolts netminder plucked a high, hard wrist shot out of the air from close range.
Burakovsky did, though, find his way onto the scoresheet in the third period when he fed the puck to the point, where Matt Niskanen hammered a shot on net. Justin Williams got his stick on the puck, redirecting it past Vasilevskiy to put the Caps ahead 3-2 and give Burakovsky his first point since Feb. 7—the game before he suffered the injury.
The big question coming into Saturday was whether Burakovsky would be able to pick up where he left off. After all, he was on a tear when he got hurt, having recorded six goals and 13 points in the 12 previous games.
The answer is a resounding, ‘Yes.’
“I’m still a little bit rusty with my shooting,” Burakovsky conceded. “But it’s going to come back, and it’s going to come back pretty soon.”
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