AP Photo/Alex Brandon
Published Saturday, June 2, 2018 | 3 p.m.
Updated Saturday, June 2, 2018 | 7:59 p.m.
WASHINGTON — The Washington Capitals beat the Golden Knights 3-1 Saturday night at Capital One Arena to take a 2-1 series lead in the Stanley Cup Final.
It’s the first time Vegas has lost back-to-back playoff games, and the Capitals were in control for most of the contest.
Alex Ovechkin opened the scoring for Washington early in the second period, scoring his second goal of the series with a backhander that beat Marc-Andre Fleury after he had already made several saves in the sequence.
The Capitals stretched their lead to 2-0 late in the second period with a sniper of a shot by Evgeny Kuznetsov.
Vegas’ fourth line came up big once again early in the third period when Tomas Nosek scored his third goal of the series to cut the deficit to one. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare pressured Capitals goalie Braden Holtby behind the net and Holtby dished the puck right to Nosek, who put it into the wide-open net.
The Golden Knights’ comeback bid was cut short with about six minutes left in the game when Devante Smith-Pelly took advantage of a Shea Theodore turnover to make it 3-1.
Capitals lead 2-0 after two periods
Alex Ovechkin scored his 14th goal of the playoffs, and second of the Stanley Cup Final, to give the Capitals an early 1-0 lead over the Golden Knights.
Ovechkin’s goal came off a rebound after Marc-Andre Fleury had already made four consecutive saves. He couldn’t stop the fifth shot of the barrage as Ovechkin’s backhanded shot slipped by his blocker to break the scoreless tie.
Later in the period Evgeny Kuznetsov led the Capitals on a 3-on-1 rush, and buried the shot past Fleury’s blocker side to extend Washington’s lead to 2-0.
Golden Knights, Capitals scoreless after one period
The Golden Knights and Capitals are scoreless after one period of hockey in the nation’s capital.
Both teams came close in the first 20 minutes, and Washington even beat Fleury on one shot but it was quickly waived off for goalie interference.
The Capitals’ shot from the slot snuck past Marc-Andre Fleury into the top, left corner of the net but only after Washington forward Devante Smith-Pelly collided with Fleury’s mask.
It came minutes after Alex Ovechkin nearly beat Fleury on a one-timer on the doorstep. Evgeny Kuznetsov — who returned to the lineup after missing most of Game 2 with an upper-body injury — fed a pass across to Ovechkin, but Fleury sprawled over and got his glove on the puck just in time.
The Golden Knights had their best chance of the period when Jonathan Marchessault beat Braden Holtby in the low corner, but the puck rang off the iron post.
Washington controlled play for most of the period but neither team generated many shots on goal. The Capitals lead with an advantage of 7-5.
The instances where the Golden Knights looked lost in their defensive zone over the first two Stanley Cup Final games were far too common.
Vegas made it this far in the postseason largely with great defensive communication and protecting the center of the ice, but early in this series the Golden Knights have struggled to talk amongst themselves.
“It’s purely communications between the centers — or the low forward — and the defensemen so that you know who is behind you,” center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare said. “That way you can cut the pass or help.”
Each of the Capitals’ first two goals in Game 2 were a result of Vegas losing a player in the defensive zone.
Colin Miller thought Lars Eller was safely behind him late in the first period, but Eller snuck above him in the right circle and was wide-open for an easy goal. Early in the second period Alex Ovechkin found a hole in the defense on the power play, and converted it into an easy one-timer goal.
“When we face adversity we have to talk more, and not cave in and not talk so much,” Bellemare said. “It’s all about awareness and have your head on a swivel.”
Another issue that has plagued Vegas in the first two games of the series has been turnovers, particularly in the neutral zone. The Golden Knights hope to shore that up as well tonight on the road.
“I think we’ve been a little too cute at times, trying to make those fancy plays through the neutral zone and our best game is when we’re keeping it simple,” defenseman Shea Theodore said. “We’re going to have to try to get back to that game tonight and we’ll be better off.”
The atmosphere in Capital One Arena should be outstanding as it hosts its first Stanley Cup Final game in 20 years. Winning on the road is never easy but the Golden Knights have been successful in this postseason with a 6-2 record. Add to that the Capitals poor 4-5 record at home and Vegas has reason to be confident.
“We need to keep playing our system,” Bellemare said. “I feel like we haven’t played our game yet. We have played two games, it’s 1-1 and we haven’t really shown ourselves.”
Prediction: Golden Knights 4, Capitals 2
Playoffs record for predictions: 11-6
Season record for predictions: 38-26
Puck drops: 5:00 p.m.
Where: T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas
Radio: Fox Sports 1340 AM and 98.9 FM
TV: NBC Sports Network (DirecTV 220, Cox 1038, Dish Network 159)
Betting line: Golden Knights plus-115, Total 5.5 minus-115 to the under
Golden Knights playoff record (13-4) (6-2 away)
Coach: Gerard Gallant
Playoffs goal leader: Jonathan Marchessault (8)
Playoffs assist leader: Reilly Smith (16)
Expected goalie: Marc-Andre Fleury (13-4, 1.88 goals against average)
Washington Capitals playoff record (13-8) (4-5 home)
Coach: Barry Trotz
Playoffs goal leader: Alex Ovechkin (13)
Playoffs assist leader: Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom (14)
Expected goalie: Braden Holtby (13-7, 2.19 goals against average)
Golden Knights expected game day roster
Forwards (12): Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Ryan Carpenter, Cody Eakin, Erik Haula, William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault, James Neal, Tomas Nosek, David Perron, Ryan Reaves, Reilly Smith and Alex Tuch.
Defensemen (6): Deryk Engelland, Brayden McNabb, Colin Miller, Luca Sbisa, Nate Schmidt and Shea Theodore.
Goalies (2): Marc-Andre Fleury and Maxime Lagace