Washington players T.J. Oshie and Matt Niskanen rode the D.C. Metro to Capital One Arena for Monday’s Game 4. It’s not often players arrive for a game with stakes as high as the Stanley Cup Final via public transit. It hasn’t been often in this postseason that the Vegas Golden Knights have gotten steamrolled by a freight train, but that’s just what happened.
Oshie hopped off the train and onto the ice to get the scoring started early for the Caps. He popped in a nifty goal on the power play midway through the first period, the first of three Washington scores in the first frame that set the tone for the Capitals 6-2 win over Vegas.
Fan-favorite Tom Wilson got the second, and Devante Smith-Pelly—who scored a huge goal late in Game 3—added another with 20 seconds left in the period to send the Caps to intermission riding high. John Carlson netted a power-play goal in the second, completely blowing the game wide open.
"They definitely came with a little bit of energy, a little bit of push to start," Carlson told NBC's Brian Boucher. "I liked the way that we responded and got that first goal. I think that really jump-started our offense and just jumping out to a [commanding] lead."
Carlson’s goal meant that Golden Knights netminder Marc-Andre Fleury has now given up four goals twice in four games this series. Fleury, who entered the SCF as the clear frontrunner for the Conn Smythe Trophy, only allowed four goals three times in his previous three playoff series this year. He had to endure numerous chants of “Fleury, Fleury …” throughout the night.
"I think at least five of the six goals were wide-open nets," Vegas coach Gerard Gallant told reporters, stating he never considered pulling Fleury. "Nothing he could have done."
With the Capitals taking a 3-1 series lead in emphatic fashion, the Conn Smythe conversation shifts to Washington’s side. Alex Ovechkin has been the emotional leader all postseason, and he’s backed up his play with timely goals and his usual plethora of points. But Evgeny Kuznetsov added four more assists on Monday to bring his playoff point total to 31, becoming the fifth player since 1997 to hit the 30-point mark. Ovechkin has 26.
"It’s an absolute pleasure playing with them every day," Wilson said to NBC's Pierre McGuire. "They’re two of the best players in the world. It’s a huge privilege. Just try to get them the puck because it's in good hands when they have it."
Don’t overlook Braden Holtby, who turned in another brilliant performance between the pipes. He stopped 28 of 30 shots on the night and has turned away 86 of 91 Vegas attempts, allowing five goals against in Game 1. The Golden Knights struggled mightily in the two games in Washington, but Holtby still answered the bell when called upon. He held a shutout through two periods on Monday until James Neal wiped it away with about 14 minutes left in the game.
Vegas wasn’t done yet. Reilly Smith scored with with just under eight minutes remaining. The formerly boisterous and noisy Caps crowd lost a bit of its mojo as time inched toward the conclusion of regulation. It didn’t take long for it to get the energy back thanks to a big-time 4-on-4 Washington goal.
Oshie entered the Vegas zone and left a drop pass for Nicklas Backstrom. Oshie gave Golden Knights defenseman Colin Miller a little shove, eliminating him from the play and allowing Backstrom to skate toward Fleury. He slid a pass over to Michal Kempny, who blistered a one-timer by the netminder to regain the Capitals’ three-goal advantage. Chants of “Let’s Go Caps! Let’s Go Caps!” echoed around the arena once again.
Minutes later, the chants intensified to “We want the Cup! We want the Cup!” Frustration boiled over for Vegas with just a couple minutes remaining. Brayden McNabb received two minutes for cross-checking Oshie, which resulted in a brawl. Both Deryk Engelland and Oshie were given game misconducts.
The Caps scored on the ensuing power play, fully restoring their four-goal lead. Ryan Reaves was then slapped with a game misconduct of his own after slashing Smith-Pelly in the back of the legs. After all of that, the buzzer finally sounded, and the Capitals moved to within one win of finally hoisting the Stanley Cup.
They know they can't start celebrating yet—there's still at least Thursday's Game 5 to get through, and starting well will go a long way.
"I think it's maybe more important now than ever before to really focus on the first period," Oshie said. "We’ve done a great job not getting too far ahead of ourselves. We’ve been pretty level-headed throughout this whole thing. Seems like everyone is just really excited to go out for their next shift and get the job done. We’ll take that same approach. Obviously it can be easy in a game where you can clinch to get a little ahead of ourselves, but we have a good group of leaders in the room and some young guys who have jumped on board. We’ll be focused at the start."
HIGHLIGHT OF THE NIGHT
Maybe Oshie should take the train every night. He displayed impeccable hand-eye—and hand-foot—coordination to score his eighth goal of the postseason.
1. T.J. Oshie, WSH — One goal, two assists, one train ride and a whole lot of energy. Oshie brought it early and often in Game 4, and his teammates responded to his competitive play in a positive manner.
2. Evgeny Kuznetsov, WSH — With the Golden Knights now on the ropes and his suprassing of the 30-point plateau, did Kuznetsov put a bow on his Conn Smythe case? He’s certainly deserving of it at this point.
3. Braden Holtby, WSH — Another game, another mighty impressive save percentage for the Caps’ netminder. This time, it was a calm, cool .933. His teammates out in front of him have made it easier, but make no mistake—Holtby is doing his part.