Stanley Cup finals: Game 2
Washington Capitals 3, Vegas Golden Knights 2
Series: Tied 1-1
Next game: Saturday, June 2, 8 p.m. ET | TV: NBC
• Top takeaways: So, about that save by Braden Holtby … (Read more)
• Highlights: The Capitals took a 3-1 lead in the second period on a power-play goal by Alex Ovechkin and another even-strength tally by Brooks Orpik, however the Golden Knights added a power-play goal of their own to make it 3-2. Washington sweated it out in the third period, but after a stunning save by Braden Holtby and a 5-on-3 penalty kill by the Capitals, they emerged with the win.
However, Evgeny Kuznetsov left the game with an apparent left-arm injury and did not return. (Read more)
• The Capitals allowed the Golden Knights to dictate the style of play last game, can Washington slow speedy Vegas in Game 2? (Read more)
• Neither team will change its lineup. (Read more)
• Just one game into the Stanley Cup finals and hard-hitting Washington forward Tom Wilson is again in the spotlight. (Read more)
• The Capitals are hoping for a better playing surface in Game 2 after “pretty bad” ice conditions at T-Mobile Arena. (Read more)
The Save: Braden Holtby’s incredible effort to deny what looked like the sure game-tying goal by Alex Tuch with two minutes remaining in regulation may go down in Capitals lore as The Save, the same way Dale Hunter’s overtime winner against the Flyers in the 1988 playoffs is referred to simply as The Goal. After looking nothing like the player who was coming off consecutive shutouts with Washington facing elimination in the Eastern Conference finals in Game 1, Holtby returned to form, stopping 37 of 39 Vegas shots and improved to 5-2 after a loss this postseason. Before his stick save on Tuch, he turned away nine shots during an extended Golden Knights power play early in the third period, which featured more than a minute of 5-on-3 play.
A first: It took 44 years and five games over two trips to hockey’s ultimate stage, but the Capitals finally earned the first Stanley Cup finals win in franchise history. At the very least, Wednesday’s 3-2 triumph ensured Washington won’t be swept like the 1998 team was by the Detroit Red Wings. The win evened the best-of-seven series at one game apiece, which is kind of a big deal, as teams that fall behind 2-0 have gone on to lose the Stanley Cup finals 90 percent of the time.
Team effort: Evgeny Kuznetsov, who was riding a franchise postseason record 11-game scoring streak, headed to the locker room clutching his left arm after taking a hit from Brayden McNabb in the first period and did not return. Playing without their leading scorer, the resilient Capitals rose to the occasion in the second period with an Alex Ovechkin power play goal that gave Washington a 2-1 lead and Brooks Orpik provided the eventual winning margin with his first goal, in the playoffs or regular season, since Feb. 26 … of 2016, a 220-game drought.
Road warriors: What Vegas Flu? The Capitals improved to 9-3 away from Capital One Arena this postseason while handing the Knights their second loss in nine games at T-Mobile Arena. Nothing like some late-night Mario Kart action on the Nintendo 64 to keep players out of the casinos. The Capitals became only the fifth team with at least nine road wins in the playoffs. Three of the previous four went on to win the Stanley Cup. The other lost in the Stanley Cup finals. The series now shifts to Capital One Arena, where the Capitals are 4-5 this postseason. Vegas is 6-2 outside of Sin City.
Final: Capitals 3, Golden Knights 2
It took a 5-on-3 penalty kill, a ridiculous save by Braden Holtby and a game-winning goal by Brooks Orpik, but the Capitals have won their first Stanley Cup finals game in franchise history. It’s on to Game 3 with the series tied at 1.
THE SAVE: Yes, capital letters are required. This save hit all 10 bells. Braden Holtby made the save of the night with 1:59 remaining in regulation to preserve the Capitals’ 3-2 lead. Alex Tuch was staring at a wide open net when he ripped a one-timer off a pass by Cody Eakin, but Holtby somehow denied him with his stick. After watching the replay from the bench, Alex Ovechkin covered his eyes with his gloves in disbelief. – SA
No jinx, but: This is now the latest the Capitals have ever led in a Stanley Cup finals game. Or even a Stanley Cup Final game, if you prefer. They had a lead with a bit more than four minutes left in Game 2 of 1998’s finals, before losing in overtime. On second thought, this is definitely a jinx. All blame should be placed upon whichever editor published this. – DS [Editor’s note: This was not added until after the game ended because the editor likes his house as it is and not engulfed in flames.]
Under 5: An offsides call preceded another TV timeout with 4:58 remaining in regulation and the Capitals still clinging to a 3-2 lead. Washington has the last four shots of the period. The Capitals would’ve had one more, and quite possibly an insurance goal, if Jakub Vrana’s slapper hadn’t gotten a piece of William Karlsson on the way to the net and gone wide. – SA
Tick, tock: Midway through the third period, the Golden Knights were on pace to outshoot the Capitals 20-4 in the frame, which was not ideal for the guys in white.
While some Capitals fans are undoubtedly curled up in a ball, Braden Holtby has stood tall, and there’s now 7:09 standing between Washington and a 1-1 tie in the series. – SA
Caps survive … for now: Vegas had nine shots on the power play, including two at 5-on-3, but Braden Holtby squeezed a slapshot from the point by Reilly Smith and Jay Beagle blocked a last-ditch effort before Lars Eller emerged from the box to complete the penalty kill. That felt like an important stretch in this game. – SA
Make it 5-on-3: A hooking penalty on Lars Eller to deny Colin Miller a scoring chance gave the Golden Knights a two-man advantage for more than a minute. Buckle up. – SA
Still no Kuznetsov: It appears the Capitals will have to hang on without Evgeny Kuznetsov, who was last seen since leaving the ice after taking a high hit with more than six minutes to play in the first period. Tom Wilson taking a penalty for interference, as he did a little more than three minutes into the third, won’t make that challenge any easier. – SA
Imagine no possessions: How about a second intermission interview with Wayne Sermon, lead guitarist of Imagine Dragons? That followed Game 1’s second intermission interview with Lil Jon, and again raised the question: How will Washington respond in the celebrity fan category when this series returns to D.C.? Please don’t be Wolf Blitzer please don’t be Wolf Blitzer please don’t be Wolf Blitzer. – DS
Golden Knights continue to assault Capitals: Washington had two goals in the second, giving them a temporary, and dreaded, two-goal lead, but Vegas does what it always does and came back with a goal of their own to cut the Capitals lead to one. Not only are the Golden Knights getting the momentum back, they took it to Washington in the second period.
Vegas had more shots attempts (15 to 5) and more scoring chances (6 to 3) in the second period at even strength and appear to be attacking Holtby’s stick side. And that makes sense: heading into the series, Holtby was allowing more than a third of his goals against (43 percent) on his blocker side. – NG
Pinnnnng: There might be nothing more remarkable about playoff hockey than this: Amid tens of thousands of screaming fans, and pro athletes going 700 miles an hour on the ice, and Doc Emrick’s voice box dangling out of his mouth while spurting beautifully composed exclamations of incredulity, a hockey puck pinging off the post still manages to sound like a frickin’ thermonuclear explosion. That Vrana ping late in the second period? The sound echoes in my ears still. So loud. Such a loud ping. Wild. – DS
End Period 2: Capitals 3, Golden Knights 2
On Washington’s sixth odd-man rush of the game, Jakub Vrana rang a shot off the outside of the post late in the second period, which is why the Capitals’ lead remains 3-2 at intermission. Washington’s two goals in the frame came from the most likely (Alex Ovechkin) and unlikely (Brooks Orpik) sources, and without the services of Evgeny Kuznetsov, who remained in the locker room after taking a hit from Brayden McNabb in the first period. The Capitals are 9-2 when leading after 40 minutes. They’re 20 minutes away from heading back to D.C. with a split. – SA
What?: Since Brooks Orpik joined the Capitals in 2014, 444 NHL players had scored at least one playoff goal, according to a quick Hockey Reference search. Orpik was not one of them. At least until Wednesday night, when he scored his third career playoff goal. – DS
Knights get one back: A frustrated T.J. Oshie was whistled for interference in the offensive zone after leveling Colin Miller in retaliation for a late hit that went uncalled late in the second period. The Golden Knights capitalized on their third power play of the night, with Shea Theodore ripping a shot from the point past Braden Holtby to pull Vegas within 3-2. – SA
Oxygen break: After six minutes without a whistle, a goalie stoppage led to a TV timeout with 2:55 left in the period. Shots were 22-19 Golden Knights, but the score remained 3-1 Capitals. – SA
Power play gone bad: Ryan Reaves, one of Vegas’s fourth-line heroes from Game 1, gave the Capitals a power play shortly after Brooks Orpik’s goal when he was whistled for roughing Tom Wilson. Washington managed one shot with the man advantage before Ryan Carpenter skated in on Braden Holtby with no Capitals defender in front of him. Dmitry Orlov had no choice but to hook Carpenter, resulting in a premature end to Washington’s power play and 1:32 of 5-on-4 time for the Golden Knights. Vegas wouldn’t score. – SA
Washington is working against Schmidt: Vegas blue-liner Nate Schimdt had the upper hand when skating against Ovechkin in Game 1 but hasn’t been as effective at stopping Washington’s star winger in the second game of the series. Ovechkin and his linemates have five shot attempts — four of those scoring chances — when skating against Schimdt and his defensive partner Brayden McNabb at even strength. – NG
Brooks Orpik, yes, Brooks Orpik scores to put Capitals up 3-1: It’s a two-goal lead for Washington. Lars Eller, who opened the scoring for the Capitals, had the primary assist on Brooks Orpik’s shot that deflected off Alex Tuch in front of Marc-Andre Fleury and into the back of the net to give Washington a 3-1 lead with 9:41 gone in the second period. It was Orpik’s first goal, in the playoffs or the regular season, since Feb. 26, 2016. – SA
More 4-on-4: While racing to a puck that was dumped in the Capitals’ zone, Nicklas Backstrom and Erik Haula got tangled up and went down. Officials sent both players to the penalty box for holding, a strange call that resulted in two minutes of 4-on-4. – SA
Ovechkin ties it on the power play: Officials didn’t call a penalty when a Ryan Reaves cross-check to the back of John Carlson flattened the Capitals’ defenseman and led to a Golden Knights goal in Game 1, but they whistled Alex Tuch for the same offense with 14:47 to play in the second period on Wednesday. Washington made the most of its first power play, as Alex Ovechkin buried a one-timer from his spot to give the Capitals a 2-1 lead. – SA
Party on F Street: There were 14,485 fans at Capital One Arena’s watch party Wednesday night. To watch a game being played in Las Vegas. That’s easily more than the Caps averaged during Alex Ovechkin’s rookie season. And the fans weren’t being quiet, either. Will they chant profanities at the officials before the night is over? Will the officials hear them? — DS
Caps kill a questionable penalty: The first period didn’t feature a power play, but a little more than two minutes into the second period, Brooks Orpik was sent to the box for an illegal check to the head of James Neal. For the record, the only contact to Neal’s head appeared to come from his own glove following a legal hit by Orpik. No matter, the Golden Knights, who scored on their only power play in Game 1, had two shots at 5-on-4 but the game remained tied. – SA
Kuznetsov watch: “I hope they see him back in uniform, because I don’t know if they can get the job done otherwise,” NBC’s Mike Milbury said at intermission of Evgeny Kuznetsov, who clutched his left arm and headed to the locker room after taking a hit from Brayden McNabb. “This is a huge blow to the Washington Capitals lineup. They already have a wounded Nicklas Backstrom. They need something better from him now.”
“In this game, you need everyone available,” fellow analyst Keith Jones said. “Losing a forward early in the game against Vegas is not good news. Major advantage for Vegas moving forward in this game.”
That, of course, is IF Kuznetsov doesn’t return. There was no update on his status at intermission. Kuznetsov, who entered Game 2 with 11 goals and 14 assists in 20 playoff games, wasn’t on the Washington bench to start the second period. The team said he is questionable to return. – SA
Tense times: The Caps and Knights have either been tied or within one goal of each other for all but 3 seconds in this series. The teams were tied after the first period in Game 1, and tied after the second period in Game 1, and now tied after the first period in Game 2. The only two-goal lead of the finals came after Vegas got a meaningless empty netter as the clock wound down on Monday. In a related story, I’m making infused vodka for the first time. I’m using strawberries and mint. It should be ready by Game 3. — DS
The Kuznetsov fallout: The injury to Kuznetsov means Ovechkin and Backstrom are skating together again, at least for the time being. Those two have shared 608 even-strength minutes of ice time during the regualr season, outscoring opponents 28 to 21 with a 325 to 298 edge in scoring chances.
Eller is now with Oshie and Vrana. That trio has very limited time together — just 27 minutes — but they managed to generate nine shot attempts in the slot and crease while only allowing three, a potentially good omen as Washington tries to break the tie near the start of the second period. – NG
Caps continue to struggle with shot attempts on net: In Game 1, Dmitry Orlov led the team with four at even strength and in Game 2 four defenseman — Orlov, John Carlson, Matt Niskanen and Michal Kempny — have more shots in the first period than all the forwards except for T.J. Oshie, Alex Ovechkin and Chandler Stephenson. – NG
End Period 1: Capitals 1, Golden Knights 0
“As you watch this, you feel like you’re a nail on the inside of a pinball machine, and everything is just happening all around you,” NBC Sports Network play-by-play man Doc Emrick said early in the first period. That’s a pretty dang good description of the first 20 minutes, which, for the second consecutive game, ended with the teams tied.
The Golden Knights scored first for the ninth time in nine home games this postseason on James Neal’s fifth goal of the playoffs. Lars Eller scored the equalizer late in the frame. Washington outshot Vegas 9-2 over the final 12 minutes of the period and has a 12-10 advantage in shots at the break. Something to keep an eye on in the second: Evgeny Kuznetsov didn’t return to the bench after taking a high hit from Brayden McNabb. – SA
Caps tie it up: Lars Eller’s sixth goal of the playoffs tied the game 1-1 with 2:33 remaining in the first period. Eller, who started the play that led to the equalizer by winning a faceoff in the Vegas zone, had a wide-open net after a pair of tape-to-tape passes from Andre Burakovsky and Michal Kempny. – SA
4-on-4 action: Some extracurricular activity after a Marc-Andre Fleury save on Matt Niskanen with 3:17 to play in the first period led to coincidental roughing minors on T.J. Oshie and Deryk Engelland. Jakub Vrana appeared to get the worst of it during the scrum, when Jonathan Marchessault came in and rocked him from behind. – SA
Kuznetsov hurt: There’s some big concern for the Caps. With less than six minutes to play in the first period, Evgeny Kuznetsov took a big hit from Brayden McNabb along the glass and immediately appeared to grab his left arm. Kuznetsov is Washington’s leading scorer in the playoffs and is riding a franchise postseason record 11-game point-scoring streak. – SA
So close: Jakub Vrana made a bid to tie the game when he grabbed the rebound off a shot by T.J. Oshie behind the net, but his wraparound attempt with Marc-Andre Fleury on his back went through the crease. – SA
Big hit by guess who: Tom Wilson leveled Ryan Carpenter in front of the Capitals’ bench before a TV timeout with 9:51 to play in the first period. Hits are even at 10 apiece, but the Golden Knights are doubling Washington in shots, 8-4. – SA
James Neal gets the scoring started: With 12:02 remaining in the first period, James Neal chipped a lofted puck past the Capitals’ defenseman Dmitry Orlov, who tried to knock down with his glove, resulting in a breakaway. Minutes earlier, Braden Holtby gobbled up a point-blank shot by Neal, but Neal found the back of the net with a wrister this time to give the Golden Knights a 1-0 lead. Vegas is 11-1 when scoring first this postseason. – SA
A better start for Washington: After the Golden Knights dictated the pace of play and had eight of the first 10 shots on goal early in Game 1, the first great scoring chance of Game 2 belonged to the Caps. Less than three minutes in, T.J. Oshie skated in on Marc-Andre Fleury, but couldn’t get enough of the rolling puck to backhand it over Vegas’s sprawling goalie. With 16 minutes to play in the first period, shots were two apiece. – SA
Encore: A Capitals victory tonight would ensure there’s a Game 5 in Las Vegas, which is excellent news for everyone who enjoys the Golden Knights’ over-the-top pregame spectacles. Look, if you can’t appreciate Vegas’s Medieval Times-meets-Disney on Ice-meets-WWE production, I don’t know what to tell you. Game 1’s extravaganza was a tough act to follow and Wednesday’s intro was something of a disappointment given the amount of material that was repeated.
After the Golden Knight vanquished the last of Vegas’s invaders from the East(ern) Conference following a brief sword fight at center ice, he pointed to his castle inside T-Mobile Arena, where a small string orchestra provided the lead-in for a performance by the Las Vegas band Imagine Dragons.
Both teams are willing to do “Whatever It Takes” to win Game 2, and if you can imagine a Capitals defense that doesn’t allow a bunch of high-danger — “Radioactive”? — scoring chances, there’s a decent chance Washington will head back to D.C. with a split. – SA
Caps’ defense can’t rest: From the net outward, the Capitals defense was underwhelming in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals. The team allowed 14 high-danger chances over 53 even-strength minutes, a rate of 15.8 per 60, and Holtby stopped just 10 of 14 of those chances against (.714). Both rates are significantly worse than their performance against the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning earlier in the playoffs. Making Holtby’s workload easier has obvious benefits: in wins this season, Holtby’s save percentage is .928; that drops to .860 in losses. The fewer high-danger chances he has to face, the more likely he is to keep the Golden Knights off the scoreboard. — NG
Washington needs to get out of the gate quickly: Washington needs to get off to a faster start than it did in Game 1. The Capitals didn’t get their first shot on net until more than halfway through the first period and it took them more than five minutes of playing time to get their first shot on net in the second period. To illustrate how little the shot volume was for Washington in the series opener look no further than the team’s shot leader at even strength, defenseman Dmitry Orlov, who ended the game with four shots on net. Brett Connolly, T.J. Oshie and another blue liner, John Carlson, tied for second with three shots on net and four others, including Alex Ovechkin, had only two all game.
Ovechkin has taken two shots or less 25 times in the playoffs and the Capitals record in those games is 17-8. — NG
Rocking the red on the road: There was a lot of red visible in the lower bowl of T-Mobile Arena during warmups before Game 2, which was a sore sight for Golden Knights owner Bill Foley.
“I don’t like it,” Foley told LVSportsBiz.com of the clusters of red-clad fans at Game 1. Foley estimated there were about 2,000 Capitals fans in the arena on Monday, including 100 Monumental Sports and Entertainment employees who flew out for the game on Capitals owner Ted Leonsis’s dime. As one means of combating the issue, Foley said he planned to look into splitting up blocks of tickets on StubHub, Vegas’s secondary ticket partner.
“I can move around the ticket locations,” he said. “I don’t want to see them together.” — SA
• Pace of play: These Capitals play faster than past Washington teams, but they also don’t want to get into a track meet with the speedy Golden Knights, which is what happened in Game 1. The 6-4 Vegas win was thrilling with multiple lead changes and frenetic action on both sides, but it didn’t match Washington’s tight-checking, defensive style of play. Forward Brett Connolly said the Capitals “didn’t find our game,” as the Golden Knights were able to dictate the pace.
“No team wants to be trading chances back and forth because then it’s up in the air as to who is going to core those goals,” Connolly said.
Though the team that wins Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals is then crowned champion roughly 78 percent of the time, the Capitals were confident despite the first loss. They lost their first game in the first- and second-round series, too, going on to then win both of those matchups. Players figured that if Game 1 was so close and they didn’t play to their preferred style, then that bodes well for when Washington does play well.
“If we bring our game to a level I know we can, as a coach I’m excited about that because I thought we left a lot our elements out there that we haven’t had in our previous series where I thought we had a pretty complete game,” Barry Trotz said. “So if we make the adjustments that we need and everybody gets back to a little more of our foundation, then I think we’ll be back in the series real quickly.”
• Goaltending: It feels like a missed opportunity that the Capitals were able to score four goals on Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and then not win the game. Fleury entered this final series with a .947 save percentage, and he hadn’t allowed four goals since his Game 1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets in the Western Conference finals. He then won the next four games to lift Vegas to a series win, not allowing more than two goals in a game.
“We know how he play,” Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin said. “We’ve played against him lots of times. We just have to do the same thing.”
Meanwhile, Washington goaltender Braden Holtby left Monday’s Game 1 with some things he wanted to clean up after allowing five goals, the most he’s been scored on in a game all postseason.
“I thought my puck-handling was not great,” he said. “I was recognizing the type of forecheck they were having, and I made the wrong decision on a few occasions. That’s just something you go back, watch the video and see where there’s defaults at times to get the puck back in our teams’ hands. Just little things like that, where every team plays a little different. You can watch all the video of how they play other teams, but you don’t know how they’re going to play you until you actually do it.”
Washington’s expected lineup
Alex Ovechkin-Evgeny Kuznetsov-Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana-Nicklas Backsrom-T.J. Oshie
Andre Burakovsky-Lars Eller-Brett Connolly
Chandler Stephenson-Jay Beagle-Devante Smith-Pelly
Michal Kempny-John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov-Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik-Christian Djoos
Braden Holtby (starter)
Vegas’s expected lineup
Jonathan Marchessault-William Karlsson-Reilly Smith
Alex Tuch-Erik Haula-James Neal
David Perron-Cody Eakin-Ryan Carpenter
Ryan Reaves-Pierre-Edouard Bellemare-Tomas Nosek
Brayden McNabb-Nate Schmidt
Deryk Engelland-Shea Theodore
Luca Sbisa-Colin Miller
Marc-Andre Fleury (starter)
Malcolm Subban, the Golden Knights’ usual backup goaltender, remains day-to-day with an undisclosed injury. Golden Knights Coach Gerard Gallant said before Game 1 that he expects Subban to return at some point during the Stanley Cup series, but he did not specify when that may be.
Tom Wilson: Washington’s 24-year-old power forward again made headlines with his late, hard hit on Vegas forward Jonathan Marchessault. While the NHL’s Department of Player Safety didn’t consider that a legal check, it also wasn’t a suspension-worthy one largely because there wasn’t head contact. Golden Knights Coach Gerard Gallant wished Wilson would’ve been called for a major penalty rather than a minor one, but he also felt the hit “woke up” his team. The Capitals typically expect Wilson to provide that kind of energy to their own bench. He’s a versatile top-line forward with four goals this postseason, including one in Monday night’s game. He could have an even bigger target on his back in Game 2 after the hard-hitting impression he made in the first contest.
“He’s one of the most physical guys in the National Hockey League and he’s playing with a couple of star players, and he hits like a truck” Trotz said. “But Tom has an effect, and positive and negative, he draws a lot of attention because of the way he plays.”
Ryan Reaves: The Golden Knights fourth-line forward, acquired in a trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins this past February, was a huge (and unlikely) part of his team’s offensive success in Game 1. The fourth line scored three goals in Game 1 — two by Tomas Nosek (one an empty-netter) and another by Reaves — and that provided an offensive balance the Capitals could not match in a 6-4 win for the Golden Knights. Reaves has spent most of his career as an enforcer and did not score a goal in 21 regular-season games with the Golden Knights. He also has never scored more than seven goals in a season. It is more likely that Reaves’ next contributions to his team’s effort will be clearing space for teammates or, possibly, confronting Wilson after the hit on Marchessault. But every bit of offense is a boost when it is coming from Reaves and the fourth line, and they provided a big lift in the first game of this series.
“I think any goal that I score for the rest of the year is going to be the biggest in my career for sure,” Reaves said after the Golden Knights practiced on Tuesday. “Winnipeg was obviously real fun because it was in front of the hometown and I caught a couple of boos. It was good to finally get one in front of Vegas. It’s been three and a half months, so it was good to get one in front of them.”