The Golden Knights scored six goals en route to a 6-4 victory in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, taking a 1-0 series lead over the Capitals in the best-of-seven series. Vegas is now three wins away from the first Stanley Cup in franchise history.
However, if Game 1 is any indication, it won’t be an easy path.
Washington put up quite a fight despite taking the loss, but Vegas battled back from one-goal deficits on two occasions in a wild game that saw 10 combined goals and four lead changes.
Though Marc-Andre Fleury and Braden Holtby have had impressive postseason runs, neither goaltender was particularly sharp in a game that was chock-full of offense.
Vegas got on the board first for the 12th time this postseason as Colin Miller scored on the power play 7:15 into the opening frame.
GOAL. Colin Miller scores the first goal of the Final! pic.twitter.com/AaG4mAfpmS— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) May 29, 2018
Miller beat Holtby short-side as the Capitals netminder was well off his angle on the play. That would be a theme throughout the game, as the Knights repeatedly capitalized on Washington’s mistakes, especially with regards to poor positioning.
In fact, Vegas’ second and third goals were scored while Capitals defensemen were completely out of position, which left William Karlsson and Reilly Smith wide open. Also, Tomas Nosek’s go-ahead goal 9:44 into the third period was the result of a costly turnover/failed clear by Devante Smith-Pelly.
GOAL. Nosek gives Vegas the 5-4 lead! pic.twitter.com/L5ZxXPzS8M— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) May 29, 2018
Shea Theodore made a great play at the blue line to keep the puck in the zone and skate around Smith-Pelly before firing a perfect cross-ice feed over to the wide-open Nosek, who one-timed the game-winner into the back of the net.
Theodore shakes Smith-Pelly and hits Nosek with a gorgeous cross-ice pass. This kid is unreal. pic.twitter.com/Ek44xNEJub— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) May 29, 2018
But the Capitals made the most of their opportunities as well.
Despite being outshot 7-1 at one point in the first period, the Capitals scored two goals in the span of just 42 seconds as Brett Connolly and Nicklas Backstrom gave Washington a 2-1 lead late in the opening frame.
Tie game. Brett Connolly redirects one past Fleury. pic.twitter.com/952QCpYDtW— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) May 29, 2018
Caps take the 2-1 lead. Fantastic work by Oshie and Backstrom down low. pic.twitter.com/jRwzjYUYYd— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) May 29, 2018
However, Karlsson tied the game at 2-2 with under two minutes left in the first as John Carlson got caught behind the net.
GOAL. William Karlsson picks up the loose puck and knocks it home! pic.twitter.com/E4kqBM6HDT— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) May 29, 2018
Smith added a similarly opportunistic tally just 3:21 into the second period as Brooks Orpik left him alone in front.
GOAL. Reilly Smith rams it home to break the tie! pic.twitter.com/OjxPCDzqpU— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) May 29, 2018
Though Carlson was at fault on Karlsson’s equalizer, he had an impressive game. He tied the game at 3-3 later in the second period on a beautiful give-and-go with T.J. Oshie. Oshie made a gorgeous pass to the wide-open Carlson, who backhanded the puck into the yawning cage.
Holy smokes, what a pass by Oshie. Caps tie it at 3. pic.twitter.com/4Em7LYgTed— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) May 29, 2018
Carlson also hit the post twice, including on Washington’s only power play of the game.
The Capitals took an early lead in the third period, albeit with some help from Fleury, who kicked a Tom Wilson redirection into his own net.
It was certainly not Fleury’s best night, as he stopped 24 of 28 shots for an .857 save percentage. But his teammates came through for the 33-year-old netminder, who picked up his first Stanley Cup win since 2009.
After Wilson gave the Capitals a 4-3 lead, Vegas’ fourth line took over, scoring the next three.
Ryan Reaves scored his second goal in two games after grabbing the series-clinching goal in Game 5 against Winnipeg in the Western Conference Final, and Nosek picked up his second and third of the postseason to cap off a very strong night for the fourth-line unit of Reaves, Nosek and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, who created scoring chances throughout the contest.
Game 1 was not without controversy, though.
Wilson delivered a late hit on Jonathan Marchessault after he got rid of the puck.
Tom Wilson nails Jonathan Marchessault. pic.twitter.com/xlvyaXB2r9— Hockey Central (@HockeyCentraI) May 29, 2018
Third angle of Tom Wilson's hit on Jonathan Marchessault pic.twitter.com/a162gTeqe3— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) May 29, 2018
Marchessault was forced to go to the locker room for concussion protocol but fortunately returned later in the frame. Though Wilson was assessed a minor penalty for interference, it’s possible the league will look at the play since he was suspended earlier in the postseason.
The hit came a little more than three minutes following a controversial non-call that led directly to Vegas’ game-tying goal by Reaves. The controversy surrounded a blatant cross-check by Reaves on Carlson in the crease. This left Reaves unimpeded as he sent a beautiful one-timer top-shelf to beat Holtby and tie the game just 1:31 following Wilson’s tally.
Each team had just a single power play on the night, though there were plenty of missed calls on both sides. But the fact that these two clubs combined for eight even-strength goals means this series could be even more unpredictable than expected.
Both teams exhibited some nerves early on, but both teams warmed to the task, combining for four goals in the first and third periods and two in the second. Vegas got two goals from its first line, one goal from the power play and three from the fourth line. Though Fleury did not have a very Fleury-esque performance, Gerard Gallant was able to roll four lines and get the most out of his players once again.
Washington came extremely close to tying the game late in the third with the goalie pulled, but the Knights made a strong defensive play to keep Lars Eller from tapping the puck into the wide-open net. At the end of the day, the Knights made the necessary plays when they had to, and they did what they had to do to win a tight hockey game.
One would have to expect that the goaltending will be less shaky in Game 2 Wednesday night, and there could be more special teams involvement given the nasty edge this series could take moving forward. But Game 1 lived up to the hype of this improbable matchup, and the Knights, who have won five straight games, are one win closer to finishing what they started.