For the first time in their 43-year franchise history, the Washington Capitals have a Stanley Cup Final victory, having beaten the Vegas Golden Knights on the road 3-2 in Game 2 Wednesday night.
Of course, Vegas notched their first Stanley Cup Final win in their first Stanley Cup Final game in their inaugural season in Game 1, but for Caps fans— some of whom have waited their entire life— this moment has been a long time coming.
Braden Holtby made 37 saves on 39 shots against for Washington, amassing a .949 save percentage en route to the win. Meanwhile, Vegas goaltender, Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 23 out of 26 shots faced for an .885 SV% in 58:01 time on ice.
T-Mobile Arena’s pregame show included string instruments and a performance by Imagine Dragons as a means of spicing things up for Game 2 of the 2018 Stanley Cup Final— fully cranking the energy in the building to 11 (and by a non-expert account, 11 times more than Game 1’s pregame show).
James Neal (5) opened scoring almost halfway into the opening frame on a snapshot that he sniped past Holtby’s glove for the 1-0 lead. Luca Sbisa chipped the puck up ice to Neal who then took it in the attacking zone at full speed and got his shot off quickly.
Sbisa (3) and Colin Miller (2) had the assists on the goal at 7:58 of the first period.
Brayden McNabb caught Evgeny Kuznetsov with a high hit, leaving the Capitals forward hunched over, clutching his left arm. Kuznetsov (11-14—25 totals this postseason) did not return to the action in the first period.
Instead of getting down as a result of losing one of their leading scorers this postseason, Washington pushed back. The Capitals broke in the offensive zone with speed during the 4-on-4 action and nearly tied the game if it weren’t for Alex Ovechkin having flubbed a pass across the ice to an open Nicklas Backstrom.
The puck bounced off of Fleury’s left leg pad with ease as the Golden Knights goaltender kicked it away from his crease. Shortly thereafter, though, Washington would get their second chance— a rare gift of second chances from the hockey gods.
After winning a faceoff in the offensive zone, the Capitals moved the puck quickly around the attacking zone, leading Michal Kempny to pinch in from the point, fake a shot and slide a pass over to a wide-open Lars Eller (6) as Fleury took the bait. Eller capitalized on the mostly empty net with a one-timed redirection and Washington tied the game, 1-1.
Kempny (3) and Andre Burakovsky (2) notched the assists at 17:27 of the first period.
Washington has scored 20 first period goals (the most in the league this postseason) and Vegas scored first in all nine home games this postseason, so it was no surprise heading into the first intermission tied, 1-1.
Similar to Game 1, shots on goal read 11-10, but unlike Game 1 the Capitals held the advantage. Statistically speaking, everything else pretty much read the same. Vegas led in takeaways (10-2), giveaways (7-1) and faceoff win percentage (63-35), while Washington led in blocked shots (3-2) and hits (22-16) after 20 minutes of play. There were no power play opportunities in the first period.
Washington met Vegas on the ice for the second period without Kuznetsov, as the Capitals PR department had informed beat reporters and fans alike that the forward was “questionable” to return to Wednesday night’s action in a tweet.
Brooks Orpik was handed a minor penalty for an illegal check to the head against Golden Knights superstar, James Neal (despite replay showing the Vegas forward might have caught himself in the face with his own arm). Regardless, Vegas went on the power play at 2:04 of the second period and failed to convert on the advantage.
Alex Tuch let emotions get the best of him, cross checking Capitals defender, John Carlson, shortly after the Golden Knights power play expired. Washington went on the power play at 5:13 of the second period and only needed 25 seconds worth of the ensuing advantage.
Quick puck movement back and forth across the ice leading to an eventual pass through the slot from Eller to Ovechkin led to Ovechkin (13) landing the power play goal for Washington, giving the Capitals a 2-1 lead in Game 2— their first lead of the night. Eller (10) and Backstrom (14) had the primary and secondary assist’s on the power play goal at 5:38 of the second period.
Backstrom then took down Vegas forward, Erik Haula, about a minute later with a hold, but both players were sent to the box as Haula picked up an embellishment minor for holding right back. This time, however, the resulting 4-on-4 play did not yield any goals.
Then the unthinkable happened. Brooks Orpik scored.
Jokes aside, it’s been a long time since Orpik last had a goal in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, let alone regular season and postseason combined. In fact, he broke a 146-game goal-less drought in the postseason and 220-game goal-less drought combined with his shot from the point that beat Fleury thanks to heavy net front traffic.
Orpik (1) made it a 3-1 game for the Capitals with his goal at 9:41 of the second period on just his third career Stanley Cup Playoff goal. Eller (11) and Burakovsky (3) notched the assists.
Ryan Reaves made his physical presence known— perhaps too known— when he was called for roughing against Tom Wilson just past the halfway point of the game. Washington’s power play was short lived, however, as Dmitry Orlov made a great defensive play at the cost of taking a penalty— a minor for hooking Ryan Carpenter as the Golden Knights forward was on a breakaway at 11:42 of the second period.
Vegas would have to wait out 28 seconds of 4-on-4 action until they’d go on the power play. The Golden Knights didn’t convert on the man advantage opportunity, but it wouldn’t be long before they’d get another chance.
After taking a hit in the corner from Miller, Oshie retaliated while the puck was far away from the Vegas blueliner. As a result, the Capitals forward was sent to the sin bin with an interference infraction at 17:27.
The Golden Knights responded on the scoreboard 20-seconds into the ensuing power play as Shea Theodore (3) wired a shot past Holtby with many skaters of both home and away clubs screening the Capitals netminder.
Despite allowing a goal and giving up some momentum, Washington pushed back with a tremendous two-on-one scoring chance from Eller to Jakub Vrana that rang off the post and cast doubt in Vegas’s minds.
Through 40 minutes of action, the Capitals led, 3-2, on the scoreboard. The Golden Knights led in shots on goal (24-20), takeaways (16-4), giveaways (11-1) and faceoff win percentage (60-41), while Washington led in blocked shots (8-4) and hits (35-29) after two periods. The Caps were 1/2 on the power play and Vegas was 1/3 after two periods.
T-Mobile Arena was rocking, despite the home team emerging from the second intermission down, 3-2, for the third period and it looked like Washington was doing everything they could to throw away a solid effort.
Wilson hit McNabb away from the puck, racking up an interference minor at 3:13 of the third period. Shortly thereafter, Eller went to the box for hooking Miller and the Golden Knights wound up with a 5-on-3 advantage for 69 seconds at 4:05.
Vegas couldn’t score.
In fact, Vegas didn’t score for the rest of the game after Theodore’s power play goal late in the second period. Nobody scored.
Not even when— after Tuch elevated the puck on a largely empty net opportunity that was thwarted by a diving stick save made by Holtby with two minutes left in regulation— the Golden Knights pulled their goaltender for an extra skater.
Gerard Gallant used his timeout with 1:59 remaining after Tuch was denied by Holtby to shake it off and rally his players, but it was too little too late as time ticked down to the final horn.
After 60 minutes, the Capitals had evened the series, 1-1, with a 3-2 victory on the road in Game 2. Washington handed the Golden Knights just their third loss this postseason, their second at home and just their first in regulation in this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Despite dominating offensive statistics, Vegas couldn’t muster enough high-quality scoring chances to score enough goals to overcome Washington’s lead and win.
Vegas finished the night leading in shots on goal (39-26), giveaways (12-4) and faceoff win percentage (59-42), but the Caps led in the final score (3-2), blocked shots (18-8) and hits (46-39). Both teams scored one power play goal Wednesday night, with Washington (1/2) having operated at a 50% success rate on the man advantage and Vegas (1/5) at 20%.
The series shifts to Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. for Game 3, where the Capitals will have a chance to win their first Stanley Cup Final victory on home ice. Likewise, the Golden Knights will have a chance to steal their first road victory in franchise history in the Stanley Cup Final.
Puck drop is scheduled for a little after 8:00 p.m. ET and viewers can tune in on NBCSN, CBC, SN or TVAS depending on their location (NBCSN in the United States, CBC, SN and TVAS in Canada).