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Burakovsky’s ability to ‘go with the flow’ helpful in the playoffs

(Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports)

Tom Wilson was attempting to describe his roommate’s light-hearted personality when right on cue, forward Andre Burakovsky started playfully wrestling with Dmitry Orlov.

“He’s over in the corner fighting someone,” Wilson said nonchalantly as he looked over at him. “He’s fun to have around.”

Burakovsky’s teammates can appreciate the rookie’s willingness to “go with the flow,” Wilson said. He spent most of March with the Hershey Bears, missing his “goofy” roommates and NHL luxuries. Burakovsky didn’t know if he’d be with the Washington Capitals for the playoffs, and then playing time became uncertain after he was scratched for the first three games of Washington’s series with the New York Islanders.

But the 20-year-old Swede played in the last four games of the series after forward Eric Fehr suffered an upper-body injury and forward Curtis Glencross ran into consistency issues. He didn’t have a goal or an assist, tallying just five shots on goal, but after a season he summarized as “up and down,” Burakovsky is just happy to be in his current situation.

“Obviously, it’s fun to be up here,” he said. “It’s what I’ve been fighting for since I came up to NHL, to get a chance to play in the playoffs and to stay up here all year. I’m just fighting every day to keep playing and that’s what I’ll continue to do.”

He said the uncertainty of whether he’d be with the Capitals or back in the AHL wasn’t a challenging situation for him. He wanted to prove to Washington Coach Barry Trotz that he belonged in the NHL, but instead of concerning himself on where he’d be playing, he focused on being ready to play when called upon. In his 53 games with the Capitals, Burakovsky had nine goals and thirteen assists.

He started the year by beating out fellow rookie Evgeny Kuznetsov in the second-line center battle, but then was dispatched to the minor leagues around the trade deadline to clear roster space after Washington acquired Glencross.

Burakovsky said managing the puck has been a point of emphasis in his conversations with Trotz, and he’s been happy with that in the playoffs, chipping it down or skating with it when needed. He said teammates, especially the hard-hitting Wilson, “were kind of shocked” when he had an impressive counter-hit on Islanders defenseman Nick Leddy in Game 5 of the first round. Brooks Orpik called Burakovsky “Forsberg” on the ice, a reference to Swede Peter Forsberg, who was known for his physical play.

Tall and skinny, the 6-foot-3, 198-pound Burakovsky admits he’s not a physical player, relying more on speed and skill. But he nonetheless enjoys the bruising nature of the postseason. Against the Rangers, known for their speed, Burakovsky’s slick skating could be handy.

“I kind of like it when it’s a little bit rough and when it’s fast out there,” he said.

Said Trotz: “He’s not afraid of the big stage. We can use his speed and his skill. When you get to the playoffs, I think he’s learning the art of decision-making at a high-level.”

Defenseman Karl Alzner said Burakovsky joined the team at a challenging time, having to adjust his game on the fly to the postseason by adding physicality, but “Burky seems like a guy who handles nerves pretty good.” Alzner said Burakovsky’s ability to get his mind off hockey when he needs to is rare for a 20-year-old.

He clears his head by hanging out with his roommates, Wilson and fellow young forward Michael Latta. They have a ping-pong table in their apartment, and sometimes they just play video games. He and Wilson like to go out to the mall or to grab coffee, while Burakovsky said Latta is “more like a vegetable. He’s just on the couch watching TV all of the time.”

“We have some good times,” Wilson said. “Sometimes we’ve got to let him know and just tell him, ‘Burky, now’s not the time. I’m trying to rest.’”

“He’s a unique kid, his ability to just kind of go with the flow,” Wilson continued. “If he’s up here, he’s having a great time. If he’s down there, he’s having a great time. He’s a happy, easy-going kid.”