Stanley Cup Final: Capitals, Holtby Hang on in Game 2 to Even Series

Braden Holtby's huge save made Brooks Orpik's first goal in over two years stand as the winner as the Capitals tied the Stanley Cup Final with a Game 2 win over the Golden Knights.
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American pop rock band Imagine Dragons, whose members hail from Las Vegas, played its hit single “Whatever It Takes” on the ice before the puck dropped for Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final. The band implored fans at T-Mobile Arena to cheer their team on to a 2-0 series lead.

It was the Washington Capitals, though, who did whatever it took to make sure that didn’t happen. Despite surrendering the first goal of the game, the Capitals rebounded to take control from there and steal home ice advantage in the series with a 3-2 win over the Vegas Golden Knights.

James Neal opened the scoring for Vegas with a snipe over Braden Holtby’s left shoulder at 7:58 of the first period. The momentum appeared to shift further in the Golden Knights’ favor when Washington’s leading scorer, Evgeny Kuznetsov, was stapled against the boards by Vegas defenseman Brayden McNabb. Kuznetsov immediately grimaced and grabbed his left wrist. He left the game and didn’t return.

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Despite the major setback, Washington didn’t flinch. Lars Eller, who stepped up to fill Kuznetsov's role and ice time, responded with an impressive shot to tie the game at 1-1. Off a faceoff on a 4-on-4, Andre Burakovsky whipped a pass from his knees to Michal Kempny. Kempny showed great patience and finally found Eller, who buried his shot into a wide-open net.

“He’s a good player. And I think Lars is not shy to take on the responsibility,” coach Barry Trotz told reporters. “He knows he has to fill in big shoes… he knows he got an opportunity. I think he relishes it. He takes that opportunity to showcase what he’s able to do. He knows that we’re relying on him. He elevates his game when we need it.”

With Kuznetsov shelved, Alex Ovechkin helped keep the momentum in the Capitals' favor. He snuck a shot by Fleury on the power play to give Washington the a 2-1 lead early in the second. But his impact spanned much further than the score sheet: Ovechkin racked up three shots and five hits on the night and found himself making plays in the defensive zone, too, including a key block late in the second period.

Brooks Orpik followed the captain’s lead with a somewhat lucky shot that ricocheted off a Vegas defender past Fleury on the short side. The Capitals didn’t know it then, but that would be all they needed to hold off the Golden Knights. 

“Orpik is one of those guys that... the stats and analytics aren’t kind to Brooksy,” Trotz said. “He’s old school, he’s a true pro. A guy like Brooks who’s in the trenches… does all those dirty things that don’t have those fancy stats, [the guys on the bench] they love it. When you’re one of the most respected guys and the way he competes… their fourth line was able to get that energy last game, Brooks was the guy that gave us that.”

Vegas netted a goal late in the second that gave home fans hope that a third-period onslaught like the one they witnessed in Game 1 would occur once again. It didn’t.

The Golden Knights threw 39 shots at Holtby, but it was the Caps’ netminder’s night. He fully proved that to be true late in the third with the highlight of the night. Holtby denied Alex Tuch’s point-blank attempt with two minutes remaining to retain Washington’s lead. Vegas fans jumped up and threw their hands in the air, thinking for sure that the game was suddenly headed for overtime. When Holtby popped up with the puck in his possession, hearts sank around the arena as Capitals' supporters surely sighed in relief.

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“Thank god we have that guy in the net,” Ovechkin told Sportsnet’s Scott Oake. “In a big moment, he’s always over there. That was huge.”

When the buzzer sounded, the two teams once again engaged in some punch-throwing that resulted in a linesmen bear-hugging and eventually sprawling on top of players from both teams. The intensity was high all night long, as both teams threw themeselves all over the ice for a combined 85 hits. In a series this tight, that trend will certainly continue in Washington for Game 3 on Saturday.

Series tied 1-1 | Full Recap | Box Score

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With two minutes left and clinging to a one-goal lead, Braden Holtby did THIS to send the series back to Washington knotted at one game apiece.

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1. Braden Holtby, WSH — He had 37 huge saves in one of his best performances of the postseason. For Washington to keep it rolling, the Caps will need Holtby to continue to keep up with—if not outplay—his counterpart at the other end of the ice.

2. Alex Ovechkin, WSH — When his linemate and fellow scorer Evgeny Kuznetsov went down with an injury, Ovechkin stepped up with a huge second-period goal. His energy on the ice reverberated throughout the lineup all night long.

3. Brooks Orpik, WSH — Orpik scored the third goal of his lengthy postseason career, and it ended up being the game-winner. He also tied for a team high with six hits.