They were rewarded for their effort with a hard-fought 3-2 win over the Knights to bring the series back to Washington tied at a game apiece.
Vegas had the shots advantage early, and in the eighth minute they took the advantage on the scoreboard. Luca Sbisa chipped the puck high out of the defensive zone from just behind his own blue line. Caps defenseman Dmitry Orlov tried to glove it down, but he might have been distracted with James Neal poking his stick into his chest. The puck bounced free and away from Orlov, Neal picked it up, and a snap shot from the left wing circle past goalie Braden Holtby later, and it was 1-0, Knights, 7:58 into the period.
The lead almost lasted to the first intermission. However, with less than three minutes to go in the opening frame, the scoring play for the Caps started with a gritty faceoff effort. Lars Eller tied up Erik Haula, and Andre Burakovsky dug out the loose puck from under them. Burakovsky pulled the puck back from a Vegas defender and slid it across to Michal Kempny at the top of the left wing circle. Kempny stepped up and showed “shot,” but he sent the puck across to Eller in the right wing circle. Eller was left with a wide-open net at which to shoot, and he did not miss, tying the game at the 17:27 mark.
After a slow start in which the Caps were outshot, 8-3, early, they finished the period with a 11-10 edge in shots and a 16-14 advantage in shot attempts.
The teams traded power plays in the early part of the period, Brooks Oprik going to the penalty box 2:04 into the period on an illegal check to the head call, and Alex Tuch heading off on a cross-checking call at the 5:13 mark. Washington killed the Orpik penalty; Vegas did not kill the Tuch call. The Caps converted on some deft passing. From the top of the right wing circle, Nicklas Backstrom slid the puck low to Lars Eller, who one-timed a pass through the blue paint and under goalie Marc-Andre Fleury’s stick to Alex Ovechkin, who one timed it into the open side of the net. The Caps had their first lead, 2-1, 5:38 into the period.
The Caps extended their lead four minutes later, courtesy of the least likely member of either team to rustle the twine. Lars Eller took a pass from Andre Burakovsky just outside the Vegas blue line and curled into the offensive zone. As Eller was cutting to the middle, Brooks Orpik filled in behind him. Eller pulled a pass across his body to Orpik on his right. Orpik flicked a shot at the net that hit Vegas’ Alex Tuch in the arm, bounced off the ice, hit the post, and banked in behind Fleury to make it 3-1, 9:41 into the period.
The two-goal advantage almost lasted through the end of the period, but T.J. Oshie took an interference call with under three minutes left in the frame. On the Knights’ power play, Shea Theodore fired a shot through a maze of players, and the puck snuck through, eluding goalie Breaden Holtby’s glove to make it 3-2, just 2:13 before the intermission.
Vegas had the offensive advantage in the period, outshooting the Caps, 14-9, and out-attempting them, 23-13.
If fire wagon hoickey was your thing, the third period had little for you. If you enjoy the chess match aspects of the game, you were spellbound. Vegas outshot the Caps, 15-6, and they enjoyed 1:08 of 5-on-3 power play time, but they could not pierce the Caps defense or solve Braden Holtby in goal Holtby stopped all 15 shots, and the Caps held on for the 3-2 win.
-- May 30, 2018… The franchise’s first Stanley Cup final game win.
-- Lars Eller’s goal was his sixth of the postseason, setting a career high. It topped the five goals he recorded in 17 postseason games for Montreal in 2014. It was his 14th point in this postseason, tying the career high he set with the Canadiens in that same 2014 season.
-- Evgeny Kuznetsov skated 4:26 on six shifts in the first period before going off with an injury. He did not return.
-- Alex Ovechkin scored his first Stanley Cup final goal in his 118th career postseason game. It was his 13th of the playoffs, extending his career high for a single postseason.
-- Orpik’s goal broke a 55-game postseason drought without one, since he scored in a 4-3 Pittsburgh Penguins win over the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 3 of their series in 2014. The goal was the game-winner, Orpik’s second career game-winning goal among the three postseason goals he has. The other game-winner came against the New York Islanders in overtime, a series-clinching 4-3 win for the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 6 of their 2013 series against the Isles.
-- Eller continued his hot scoring pace. With a goal and two assists he recorded his third three-point game of this postseason and third in his last 14 games in this postseason.
-- Andre Burakovsky had his second multi-point game (0-2-2) in his last three appearances.
-- Braden Holtby stopped the last 16 shots he faced, no save bigger than a paddle save on an Alex Tuch shot with 1:59 left in regulation and the Caps nursing that one-goal lead. If the Caps should win this series, that will be the biggest save in the history of the franchise.
-- The Caps finished the game with 46 credited hits, three Caps with six apiece: Lars Eller, Tom Wilson, and Brooks Orpik.
-- T.J. Oshie took a penalty that put the Caps in a bind late in the second period, one that led to the second Vegas goal, but he also had four blocked shots to lead the team.
In the end…
What Caps fans saw tonight was what they have seen all too often in the past, a goalie flat out stealing a game. The odd thing was that it was the Caps goalie – Braden Holtby – who was committing grand larceny with 37 saves on 39 shots faced. But it was an all-hands effort, too. Fourteen skaters had hits, 12 had blocked shots, and six different players had points. And at the other end, they have made Marc-Andre Fleury look beatable. He has allowed three or more goals in consecutive games for the first time since the San Jose series and in consecutive games in regulation on home ice for the just second time in these playoffs.
You could say that the Caps have swiped home-ice advantage in this series as it moves to Capital One Arena for Games 3 and 4, but home ice seems to matter less in hockey than in any other team sport. It means that the Caps have to maintain their focus on the details. If they can do that, home ice will take care of itself.