For the first time in franchise history (43 years), the Washington Capitals have a series lead in the Stanley Cup Final— as a result of winning their first Stanley Cup Final victory on home ice in franchise history as well— Saturday night at Capital One Arena.
The Capitals defeated the Vegas Golden Knights, 3-1, and take a 2-1 series lead heading into Game 4.
Braden Holtby stopped 21 out of 22 shots faced for a .955 save percentage en route to the win, while Vegas goaltender, Marc-Andre Fleury replicated his Game 2 stats— 23 saves on 26 shots against for an .855 SV%— in the loss.
Fans rocking the red at Capital One Arena erupted in sheer joy only to be dismayed seconds later as the ref waved off what was thought to be a goal for the home team on account of goaltender interference. Instead of grabbing an early lead, Devante Smith-Pelly was heading to the penalty box at 5:04 of the first period.
Luckily for Washington, the Golden Knights could not convert on the ensuing power play.
The Caps couldn’t muster anything on the power play and Vegas responded well to the successful penalty kill with Jon Marchessault ringing the far right post shortly after Smith reentered the playing surface.
After one period of play, the game was still tied, 0-0, with Washington leading in shots on goal, 7-5. Washington also led in blocked shots (15-5), hits (17-12), giveaways (7-6) and faceoff win percentage (72-28), while the Golden Knights led in takeaways (5-4) after 20 minutes of play. Both teams were 0/1 on the power play entering the first intermission.
While diving for a loose puck in a flurry of activity, Alex Ovechkin (14) buried the game’s first goal on the fifth attempt in Washington’s attacking zone possession, 70 seconds into the second period. John Carlson (14) and Evgeny Kuznetsov (15) notched the assists on the goal that made it 1-0 Capitals after Fleury made a couple of great desperation saves.
Ovechkin tied John Druce for the most goals (14) in a single postseason in Capitals franchise history. Druce set the franchise record in Washington’s 1990 run to the Eastern Conference Final.
Erik Haula tripped up Kempny at 9:58 of the second period and was sent to the sin bin, giving Washington their second chance on the power play Saturday night. Despite Carlson rocketing a slap shot that was tipped by T.J. Oshie, the right post once again came up big and preserved a one-goal deficit for the Golden Knights as the Capitals failed to score on the power play.
But in the vulnerable minute after the special teams opportunity, Washington capitalized on Vegas’s misfortune.
Vegas had amassed a couple quality chances that were turned aside by Holtby and his defenders. Then the puck went the other way down the ice thanks to Oshie, Jay Beagle and Kuznetsov.
Bursting with speed through the transition, Kuznetsov (12) sniped a shot past Fleury on the odd man breakout giving Washington a 2-0 lead at 12:50 of the second period. Beagle (5) and Oshie (11) were credited with the assists on the eventual de facto game winning goal.
Smith-Pelly was guilty of tripping Shea Theodore late in the second period. About a minute later, with Theodore well out of position, Fleury left his crease to do just about anything to stop Matt Niskanen from yielding a scoring chance. Left with no other option, the Golden Knights goalie tripped the Washington blueliner and Theodore was sent to the sin bin to serve Fleury’s minor infraction at 19:38.
Through 40 minutes of play the Capitals led, 2-0. Washington dominated in shots on goal (21-13), blocked shots (19-7), hits (29-24), takeaways (9-8), giveaways (13-6) and faceoff win percentage (67-33) after two periods. Both teams were 0/2 on the power play entering the second intermission and Vegas’s strong first line offense was nowhere to be found.
Holtby mishandled the puck early in the third period, inadvertently sending the puck off of Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, right on to the stick blade of Tomas Nosek. Nosek (4) pocketed a goal on a mostly empty net as the Capitals netminder dove to try to make a last ditch effort save.
Vegas cut the lead in half, 2-1, thanks to Nosek’s goal. Bellemare (3) earned the only assist on the shutout breaker at 3:29 of the third.
There’s just one problem— Engelland never tripped Backstrom. Backstrom’s teammate, Chandler Stephenson, had gotten his stick caught up in the Capitals forward’s legs and video replay confirms it. The refs had made an error that nearly cost the Golden Knights, but thankfully for Vegas, neither team had any hot hands on the power play.
Over six minutes later, Smith-Pelly (5) redeemed himself for his early goaltending interference penalty that cost his team of a surefire goal. The prominent clutch depth scoring forward one-timed a shot past Fleury on a pass from Beagle at 13:53 of the third period, securing a two-goal lead.
Beagle (6) had the only assist on the goal and Washington led, 3-1.
Time continued to tick and the Golden Knights couldn’t generate the necessary offense to overcome the trap.
Gerard Gallant pulled his goaltender with 2:38 remaining in regulation. Vegas used their timeout with 39.5 seconds left in the game. Washington couldn’t secure an empty net goal, but they did secure the 2-1 series lead at the final horn.
The Capitals had won, 3-1, leading in shots on goal (26-22), blocked shots (26-9), hits (38-31), giveaways (21-7) and faceoff win percentage (63-37) after 60 minutes. Vegas finished the night 0/2 on the power play, while Washington went 0/4.
Washington can take a commanding 3-1 series lead with another win at home in Game 4 on Monday. Despite their 5-5 record at home this postseason, the Caps improved to 11-4 overall when scoring first.
Puck drop in Game 4 is set for a little after 8:00 p.m. ET Monday night on NBC, CBC, SN or TVAS (depending on your location/viewing preferences).