Monday, June 04, 2018

Stanley Cup Final -- Game 4: Washington Capitals 6 - Vegas Golden Knights 2

The Washington Capitals hosted the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final at Capital One Arena on Monday night.  They gave Vegas more than they could take and Caps fans all that they could want in slamming the Golden Knights, 6-2, to take a commanding 3-1 lead in games in the 2018 Stanley Cup final.

First Period

As expected, behind two games to one, Vegas came out hard and fast.  Getting a power play less than four minutes into the game did not help the Caps’ fortunes, but despite an 11-2 advantage in shot attempts, that power play in the first seven minutes, and two shots off the post behind goalie Braden Holtby, the Caps and Golden Knights remained scoreless.

Then, it was Vegas’ turn to kill a penalty.  It did not go well for the visitors.  With Colin Miller off on a tripping call, Evgeny Kuznetsov settled a pass from Nicklas Backstrom and worked the puck low to the right of goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.  Kuznetsov’s shot was turned aside by Fleury, but into open ice to his left.  T.J. Oshie filled the space, settled the puck with his skate, and snapped a shot over Fleury’s left pad to give the Caps a 1-0 lead, 9:54 into the period.

The Caps added a goal late in the period.  Off a faceoff to Fleury’s right, defensemen Deryk Engelland took control of the puck, but it was knocked off his stick at the far edge of the faceoff circle.  Tom Wilson picked it up and dropped it off to Kuznetsov circling low around the outside of the faceoff circle.  As Kuznetsov was moving around the circle, Wilson curled to the front of the net.  Kuznetsov fed Wilson between the hash marks, and Wilson snapped a shot past Fleury’s left pad, and it was 2-0, Caps, at the 16:26 mark.

That would have been quite an advantage for the Caps going into the first intermission, but they added to the lead in the last minute.  Devante Smith-Pelly started the play by settling an attempted clear just inside the Vegas blue line. He played the puck along the wall to Alex Ovechkin, who sent the puck across to Matt Niskanen at the right point.  Niskanen’s shot was muffled by the stick of William Karlsson into the feet of Smith-Pelly heading for the net.  Smith-Pelly kicked the puck to his stick and roofed a shot under the crossbar to make it 3-0 with just 20.5 seconds left in the frame.

Odd Numbers… Vegas had a 25-13 edge in shot attempts (11-11 in shots on goal).

Second Period

Vegas came out charging again to start a period, but they once more could get nothing to show for it.  Two power plays in the first then minutes yielded nothing, and it had the effect to swing momentum to the Capitals’ side of the ice once more.  The Caps made the Knights pay for their lack of return on early investments in effort with a power play strike late in the period.

James Neal took an ill-advised slashing penalty with 5:15 left in the period.  With the man advantage, John Carlson took possession of the puck in the corner and backhanded it behind the Vegas net to Nicklas Backstrom.  The puck came through Backstrom, but was collected by T.J. Oshie who stepped out from the goal line and swept the puck to the right wing wall.  There, Evgeny Kuznetsov took control and sent the puck back across to Carlson, who one-timed a shot from the left wing faceoff dot off the far post and behind Fleury to make it 4-0, 15:23 into the period.

Odd Numbers… Vegas out-shot the Caps, 11-5 in the period and had a 25-12 edge in shot attempts.

Third Period

For the Caps, the task was to get through the last 20 minutes without giving Vegas any reason to think they could get back into the contest.  They had a chance to do that with a power play opportunity early in the period, but they could not convert.  Vegas would get their own power play chance just after the Caps’ power play expired, and while they could not convert their chance, they did get on the board just after the penalty to Evgeny Kuznetsov expired.  James Neal snapped a shot under Holtby’s right arm from close quarters and under the crossbar to make it 4-1, 5:43 into the period.

Vegas made it a bit more interesting as the clock wound down under ten minutes in the period.  Brett Connolly was unable to clear the puck up the boards and out of the defensive zone for the Caps, and it ended up being a chance for Reilly Smith, who was in deep to Holtby’s left.  Smith backhanded the puck under the crossbar on the short side to make it 4-2, 12:26 into the period.

The Caps got it back just over a minute later.  With both teams short a man (Ryan Reaves for Vegas, Tom Wilson for the Caps on coincidental roughing minors), Nicklas Backstrom took advantage of the extra space on the ice to thread a pass from the left wing circle across to Michal Kempny for a one-timer that beat Fleury before he could scramble across the crease.  The Caps had their three-goal lead back at 5-2, 13:39 into the period.

Brett Connolly added a power play goal late when he walked out to the slot from the left wing faceoff circle and rifled a shot through a maze of players past Fleury's blocker for the final 6-2 score.

Other stuff…

-- When Evgeny Kuznetsov recorded his third assist of the game (all primary assists) on the John Carlson power play goal, he became the first player in Capitals history to record 30 points in a single postseason.  He finished with four assists, the third player in team history to accomplish that feat in a playoff game (Scott Stevens against the Devils in 1988 and Andrei Nikolishin against Buffalo in 1998; it was the first time it was done on home ice).  It was the first time a player recorded four assists in a Cup final since Joe Sakic had four assists in an 8-1 Game 2 win over the Florida Panthers in 1996.

-- T.J. Oshie (1-2-3) recorded his sixth multi-point game of this postseason and second in this series (he had two assists in the Caps’ 6-4 loss in Game 1).  It was his first three-point game of the playoffs.

-- Nicklas Backstrom had three assists, his seventh multi-point game of the postseason and 25th of his playoff career.  It was the third time he had three assists in a playoff game and first on home ice.

-- The Caps went 3-for-5 on the power play, the first time they recorded three power play goals in a single game since Game 2 against Columbus in the first round.

-- As in Game 3, the Caps had a huge edge in blocked shots, blocking 24 shots to eight for Vegas.

-- On the other hand, Vegas had a 30-23 edge in shots on goal at game’s end and a 71-41 edge in shot attempts.

-- Every Vegas player was credited with at least one hit and had a 39-29 edge.

-- Brooks Orpik threw “box cars” in the "grittership" department … six credited hits, six blocked shots in 17:04 of ice time.

-- “Three” is a magic number for both teams in this postseason.  Both clubs came into this game with a 10-0 record when allowing two or fewer goals.  First to three seemed likely to win, and it was the Caps who got there.

-- Braden Holtby stopped 28 of 30 shots, bringing his three-game total to 86 saves on 91 shots (.945 save percentage).  At the other end, Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 17 of 23 shots.  He is 87-for-103 over the four games of this series (.845).

In the end…

It started in October with a 5-4 Gimmick win against Ottawa, and it now comes down to one more win to reach the promised land for the first time in team history.  That last win, what would be the 65th of the season for the Caps, will no doubt be the hardest of all to secure.  But in this game the Caps sent a clear message that they will have to be beaten.  They are not playing as if they are going to be giving anything away.  And at the end of this contest, Vegas looked as if they had nothing left in the tank to take anything away from the Caps.  They will likely be well-supported by their fans at T-Mobile Arena on Thursday, but one has to wonder if that is going to be enough.  For the first time since the franchise was born, Caps fans can hope that what they saw tonight was the last game on home ice this season.  And while there is still work to be done, the team gave every indication that it would be just that.