- Washington took advantage of key opportunities in its 3-1 win in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final.
The nation’s capital waited two decades for the chance to witness a Stanley Cup Final game on home ice. Washington Capitals fans have waited even longer to watch a SCF victory in their home barn. In the 40-plus years of the Caps’ existence, they had never won a Final game at home.
Pat Sajak, the host of the hit game show Wheel of Fortune and 13-year Capitals season-ticket holder, took to the ice to announce Game 3’s starting lineups. Before he did so, he reminded the fans at Capital One Arena of all the heartbreak they’ve endured as Capitals fans. Remembrance of those Washington woes quickly fleeted as the game wore on.
Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov, the Caps’ two leading scorers in this year’s postseason, scored the first two goals of the game—both of which came in the second period. Those tallies propelled Washington to a 3-1 win and gave the Capitals a 2-1 series lead over the Vegas Golden Knights.
After taking a massive hit from Brayden McNabb early in Game 2, Kuznetsov was a game-time decision for Game 3, but coach Barry Trotz said he was pretty confident on the plane ride back from Vegas that his leading scorer would be dressed Saturday.
“Kuzy is elevating his game,” Trotz told reporters. “He took a good hit in that game, and he’s doing everything to make sure we get this thing done.”
Washington thought it jumped on Vegas early when a wrister from the point beat Golden Knights netminder Marc-Andre Fleury on the short side in the first period. But Devante Smith-Pelly was called for goalie interference as he grazed by the crease and knocked Fleury in the head. The goal was waved off, and Smith-Pelly was sent to the box.
Vegas wasted the ensuing power play, and the Golden Knights gave away another man advantage late in the second period when Fleury took a tripping minor. They couldn’t do much at even strength, either. The Capitals outshot Vegas 26-22 and controlled most of the game. The high-flying, high-scoring Golden Knights from Game 1 didn’t make the trip east.
Vegas needed all the help it could get to hang around, and Capitals goalie Braden Holtby accidentally obliged. Playing the puck behind his own net, Holtby’s pass toward the middle of the ice was knocked down, and the puck landed right in Tomas Nosek’s bread basket. He buried it into a wide-open net to cut the Golden Knight’s deficit in half with over 16 minutes left in the game.
“I felt like we had more chances than we did in Game 2, we were around the net more,” Vegas coach Gerard Gallant said. “We just didn’t get second and third chances and the rebounds. Holtby made some good saves and covered some pucks up. I felt we were more competitive around their net.”
Holtby gifted Vegas its first goal, but the referees gifted Washington a potential momentum-shifting power play minutes later. Nicklas Backstrom was tripped by his own teammate, but Golden Knights defenseman Deryk Engelland ended up in the sin bin as the fall guy. Luckily for Vegas, the Caps didn’t take advantage and it remained a one-goal game until midway through the third.
The Golden Knights retained most of their momentum from Nosek’s goal as they kept the pressure on in the attacking zone. The Capitals were forced to clear the puck down the ice multiple times, resulting in a few icings and many restless fans inside the arena. One of the Caps’ clearances, though, resulted in good fortune for the home side.
Smith-Pelly cleared the zone and forced Vegas defenseman Shea Theodore to retrieve deep in Golden Knights territory. Capitals forward Jay Beagle didn’t give up on the play, relentlessly forechecking until he gained possession of the puck. Smith-Pelly didn’t give up on his own dump, and Beagle found him with a pass right in the wheelhouse. Smith-Pelly quickly elevated it right over Fleury’s left shoulder to give the Caps another two-goal lead.
“I love scoring the big goals. I don’t know what it is, but these kinds of games are the best to play in,” Smith-Pelly told NBC’s Pierre McGuire.
Vegas tried to muster a miraculous last-minute rally, but it wasn’t in the cards. Washington dominated for much of the night and was rewarded with the series lead. The long wait to witness a win of this magnitude on home ice finally washed away for Caps fans, who stayed long after the horn sounded as they relished in the atmosphere. Expect much of the same for Game 4 on Monday.
HIGHLIGHT OF THE NIGHT
Dump and chase. Clinging to a one-goal lead late in the third, the Caps chose not to sit on it. Instead, Beagle and Smith-Pelly made some magic happen with a little bit of skill and a whole lot of hard work.
1. Evgeny Kuznetsov, WSH — After getting knocked out of Game 2 early in the first period, Kuznetsov returned to the lineup in a big way. His goal ended up being the winner, and he added an assist on Ovechkin’s opening goal.
2. Jay Beagle, WSH — Beagle’s forechecking and assist on Smith-Pelly’s goal sealed the deal for Washington. He had another assist on Kuznetsov’s goal and totaled a team-high three takeaways.
3. Braden Holtby, WSH — He made one mistake, and it directly resulted in the Golden Knights’ only goal of the night. Other than that, he was solid between the pipes once again as he stopped 21 of the 22 shots.