The pregame festivities at T-Mobile Arena were engaging and entertaining, as has been the case all postseason long. The Vegas Golden Knights followed up with quite a show themselves, which has also been the norm this spring.
The Washington Capitals, though, showed enough in their 6-4 defeat in Game 1 to make Vegas think that this just might be the tallest task of its fairytale postseason run. Still, the Golden Knights inched three wins away from raising the Cup in their inaugural season on the strength of three third-period goals.
The crowd in Vegas was roaring, and the Golden Knights responded to the vivacity with the first goal of the game. Colin Miller got the scoring started on the power play 7:15 into the contest, beginning a game-long trend of trading tallies throughout night.
“In the playoffs, to get pucks through is never easy,” Miller told Sportsnet’s Scott Oake. “Just try to keep your head up and find the lane. don’t always have time to get the big shot off, but when you can, it works.”
The atmosphere was imposing, but it didn’t deter Washington early on. The Capitals responded to Miller’s goal with back-to-back scores of their own. Brett Connolly and Nicklas Backstrom found the back of the net 42 seconds apart in the second half of the first period. The Golden Knights, resilient as ever, knotted the game at two goals apiece on William Karlsson’s goal just before the first intermission.
The first-period equalizer energized the fans once again, and Reilly Smith took advantage 3:21 into the second to give Vegas the lead once more. Still not discouraged by what NBC’s Pierre McGuire called the “loudest building (he’s) been in,” Washington fought back to tie the game heading into the third.
Tom Wilson gave Washington the lead again when his shot got caught under goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who backed the puck into his own net. The trading of goals stopped there. Vegas's fourth line scored the final three goals of the game, and it started with Ryan Reaves’s snipe over Braden Holtby’s right shoulder a minute and a half after Wilson’s goal.
"It’s great when you see those guys get rewarded," Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant said. "That fourth line went out there and battled hard and got pucks down below the goal line."
As he did in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals against Tampa Bay, Wilson got caught up in a physical confrontation. This time, he initiated it with a blind-side, late hit on Jonathan Marchessault—the Golden Knights’ leading scorer in the playoffs. He left the game to undergo concussion protocol, and Wilson was slapped with an interference minor.
"I think he might has been a little surprised by it," said Wilson, who was suspended for three games in the second round for a hit against Penguins forward Zach Aston-Reese. "I believe it was a good clean hit. It’s playoff hockey, there’s going to be big hits, it’s a contact sport. It’s my job to bring that energy and physicality."
Vegas didn’t let Wilson’s hit affect its play. Tomas Nosek gave the Golden Knights the lead for good midway through the third on a point-blank one-timer. He added the exclamation point with his empty-netter three seconds before the horn sounded.
The Capitals will look to bounce back in Game 2 on Wednesday after having felt the full Vegas playoff experience, and a key will be quelling the Golden Knights, who improved to a 24-1-0 mark when scoring four goals at home throughout the regular season and playoffs.
"As a whole we can play a lot better, which, that’s exciting to me," Washington coach Barry Trotz said. "I know we have another level in our game. It gonna be our whole roster. They got contributions for their bottom part of their roster … I expect us to have a response. We have more to our game."
HIGHLIGHT OF THE NIGHT
Washington didn’t win, but the Capitals probably had the best goal of the night. John Carlson, T.J. Oshie, give-and-go. Check it out.
1. Reilly Smith, VGK — Smith was one of two Golden Knights forwards to log more than 20 minutes of ice time. He made the most of it with a goal, an assist and a team-high five hits. Defensively, he had three takeaways—he was all over the ice in Game 1.
2. Deryk Engelland, VGK — Defense was hard to come by in a game with 10 total goals, but Engelland was as good as anybody on the back end. He had two assists, five shots on goal and managed to keep a positive plus/minus during his 27 shifts.
3. Tomas Nosek, VGK — Scoring ultimately wins hockey games, and Nosek had a nose for the net when it mattered most. His game-winner and empty-netter sealed the deal.