Depth scoring proved to matter a lot more than the best goaltending this postseason as the Vegas Golden Knights defeated the Washington Capitals 6-4 in Game 1 of the 2018 Stanley Cup Final Monday night.
Vegas goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury made 24 saves on 28 shots faced for an .857 save percentage in the win, while Washington netminder Braden Holtby made 28 saves on 33 shots against for an .848 SV% in 58:12 time on ice.
T-Mobile Arena was the loudest it has ever been prior to puck drop in Game 1 of the 2018 Stanley Cup Final. Then again, T-Mobile Arena is only in its first season of NHL hockey and well, you get the point— Vegas was ready for its Stanley Cup Final debut.
Almost six minutes into the action, after swapping chance for chance, Andre Burakovsky boarded Golden Knights forward, Cody Eakin, and was sent to the penalty box with a minor infraction for boarding.
Vegas made sure to capitalize on the ensuing power play.
Colin Miller (3) received a pass back to the point from Erik Haula and flung a slap shot on goal, beating Holtby on the short side as the Capitals netminder was partially screened by his own defender, John Carlson. The Golden Knights led, 1-0 thanks to Miller’s power play goal.
Haula (5) recorded the only assist on the goal at 7:15 of the first period.
Past the halfway mark of the opening period, Washington only had one shot on goal, but that was about to change.
Michal Kempny tossed the puck on goal where Brett Connolly (5) was standing in the low slot, ready to deflect and successfully redirected the rubber biscuit past Fleury, tying the game, 1-1, at 14:41 of the first period. Kempny (2) and Burakovsky (1) had the assists.
A mere 42 seconds later, the Caps struck again as Nicklas Backstrom (5) pocketed a redirected pass over the leg pad of Vegas’s netminder to give Washington their first lead of the night, 2-1. T.J. Oshie (9) and Jakub Vrana (5) notched the assists on the goal at 15:23.
For the first time this postseason, the Golden Knights trailed on home ice in regulation. It only lasted for about three minutes.
Reilly Smith flew in from the bench and shot one wide of the goal, sending the puck on a crazy carom off the boards where William Karlsson (7) pounced and scored as Holtby was scrambling to go side-to-side in net. Smith (15) and Deryk Engelland (1) had the assists on Karlsson’s goal at 18:19 of the first period and Vegas tied the game, 2-2.
After 20 minutes of hockey, the Golden Knights and Capitals were deadlocked, 2-2, with Vegas holding a slight advantage in shots on goal, 11-10. The home team also led in takeaways (7-2) after one period, while Washington dominated in blocked shots (7-2), hits (19-11) and faceoff win percentage (52-48). Giveaways were even, 3-3, after the first period and Washington had yet to see time on the power play.
Meanwhile, Vegas was 1/1 on the man advantage entering the first intermission.
Early in the second period Smith (3) pounced on a juicy rebound allowed by Holtby on a shot from Engelland, giving the Golden Knights a 3-2 lead. Engelland (2) and Jon Marchessault (11) were credited with the assists on Smith’s goal at 3:21 of the second period.
Minutes later Oshie worked a highlight reel pass over to Carlson (4) who promptly wired one into the open twine behind Fleury as the Vegas netminder had other things in mind. Oshie (10) and Backstrom (13) recorded the primary and secondary assists on Carlson’s goal at 8:29 of the second period, tying the game, 3-3.
The Golden Knights followed up with a bench minor for too many men on the ice about five minutes later, deftly handing Washington a full momentum swing in the action that could have led to a dismal outcome had the home team allowed a power play goal against.
Birthday boy David Perron served the minor in the box at 13:55 and the Capitals did not convert on the advantage.
Through 40 minutes of play the score was tied, 3-3, with the Golden Knights maintaining an advantage in shots on goal (25-18), takeaways (15-5) and giveaways (7-6). Meanwhile the Capitals led in blocked shots (11-6) and hits (28-19). Washington was 0/1 on the power play and Vegas was 1/1 after two periods.
Washington’s Tom Wilson (4) opened third period scoring with a redirection that squibbed through Fleury and eventually was knocked in by the Golden Knights goaltender, giving the Capitals a 4-3. Alex Ovechkin (11) and Evgeny Kuznetsov (14) recorded their first career Stanley Cup Final points 69 seconds into the period with the assists on Wilson’s goal.
Kuznetsov extended his point streak (6-10—16 totals) to 11 games as a result of the assist.
Not to be outdone by the pesky Capitals forward, Ryan Reaves (2) recorded his first career Stanley Cup Final goal— unassisted— on a tremendous follow up after Holtby gave up another costly rebound. Reaves’s goal tied the game, 4-4, at 2:41 of the period.
Shortly thereafter, Wilson took a run at Marchessault while the puck was miles away (slight exaggeration added for emphasis), leaving Marchessault slow to get back on his own feet and the refs with the difficult decision to converse and decide that, after all, there should have been a penalty.
While Wilson went to the box for— blatant— interference, Perron equalized the manpower on the ice with his own cross checking penalty against Ovechkin, yielding 4-on-4 action at 5:53 of the third.
Theodore used the opportunity to skate past Smith-Pelly and send a pass cross-ice to Tomas Nosek (2) for the one-timer on one knee that rocketed past Holtby. The Golden Knights led 5-4 thanks to Nosek’s goal and Theodore’s (6) assist at 9:44.
For the first time in Stanley Cup Final history, there were four lead changes in one game. This time Vegas never looked back.
With 1:52 remaining in regulation, Barry Trotz pulled his goaltender for an extra attacker. Gerard Gallant’s Golden Knights would not be outplayed, as Washington botched an open net one-timer scoring opportunity with about 45 seconds left on the clock.
Soon enough, Perron cleared the puck off glass and with just enough mustard on it to not be called for icing. Nosek (3) chased the loose biscuit down and finished things off with an empty net goal at 19:57 of the third period. Perron notched the assist (8) and the Golden Knights secured the 6-4 victory in Game 1.
Time expired and Vegas finished the night with a 1-0 series lead— three wins away as an expansion franchise from winning the Cup in their first season. The Golden Knights ended the night leading in shots on goal (34-28), giveaways (9-7) and faceoff win percentage (52-48). Washington ended the night leading in all things related to the physical department (blocked shots, 18-17, and hits, 38-25).
Vegas looks to take a commanding 2-0 series lead in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final Wednesday night on home ice. Viewers can tune in at 8:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN or TVAS.