Ladies and gentlemen, we have ourselves a series.
After the Vegas Golden Knights’ thrilling 6-4 victory over the Washington Capitals in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, the Caps stormed back with a vengeance Wednesday night to once again even the series at one game apiece.
While the Golden Knights did manage to make things interesting after Washington took a 3-1 lead in the second period, it was too little too late for the boys in steel gray. A hot goaltender and a lack of quality scoring chances did Vegas in, and now the team heads to the nation’s capital with home-ice advantage now belonging to Washington.
Let’s review what we learned from Game 2.
1. Holtby sensational
Marc-Andre Fleury has been commonly regarded as the best goalie of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but in Game 2, Braden Holtby absolutely stole the show against Fleury.
Vegas peppered Holtby with 39 shots Wednesday night. Albeit, many of them were from low-danger areas, but that still isn’t something to sneeze at. Of those 39 shots, the former Vezina winner stopped 37 of them, including a golden opportunity for Alex Tuch to tie the game late in the third period.
Save of the year? You be the judge.
Holtby will be the first to admit that he wasn’t good enough in Game 1, and he rebounded in a big way Wednesday night. The 28-year-old backstop now sports a 2.19 goals against average and .921 save percentage through 20 postseason games.
Not exactly Fleury-like numbers, but certainly terrific nevertheless.
2. Vegas fails to convert on colossal power play opportunity
In the third period, the Golden Knights were gifted a great chance to tie the game up at three goals apiece, but they simply failed to take advantage of the opportunity.
Just 51 seconds into a penalty to Tom Wilson, Colin Miller drew a hooking minor that gave Vegas a very nice 69 seconds on the two-man advantage. However, the Knights only managed to fire one shot on goal during that span.
Even after the two-man advantage expired, though, Vegas had roughly 50 seconds to work with on the five-on-four power play. Ironically, with one additional skater on the ice for Washington, the Knights managed to get numerous shots on Holtby during those 50 seconds, but they just couldn’t get anything past the goal line.
This was an opportunity that could have changed the result of the game. A Vegas goal creates a huge swing in momentum and possibly gives Vegas a two-game lead in the Final. But as fate would have it, Holtby stood on his head and kept Washington ahead by one. Missed opportunities like this not only decide a game, but possibly a series. In order to win this battle against the Capitals, Vegas cannot afford to blow a chance like this again.
3. Eller steps up
In the first period, Washington’s Evgeny Kuznetsov took a big hit from Brayden McNabb that would end his night. Filling in for him on the second line and on the man advantage was Lars Eller, who, despite playing with new linemates, absolutely dominated the Knights.
The 29-year-old center had a hand in all three of Washington’s goals following Kuznetsov’s injury. First, Eller took matters into his own hands in the opening period, scoring the easiest goal of his life to tie the game at one. Later on in the middle period, Eller hit Alex Ovechkin with a perfect cross-ice feed on the power play to give the Caps the lead (this also ended up being Ovechkin’s first-ever Stanley Cup Final goal, so that’s pretty neat). Eller completed his three-point night just a few minutes later when he registered yet another primary assist, this time on Brooks Orpik’s game-winner midway through the contest.
Similar to how Vegas’ fourth line stepped up in Game 1, Eller’s moment came in Game 2. And for the Knights to get back on track, they’ll need to readjust to Eller playing on the second line. Especially if Kuznetsov’s injury is serious.
4. First line underwhelming
Vegas’ top trio of Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson and Reilly Smith has proven throughout the season to be one of the best lines in all of hockey, if not the best. The trio averages over a point per game this postseason and continues to be the Knights’ primary source of point production.
After the line combined for four points in Game 1, though, the Capitals mostly held them in check in Game 2.
While Karlsson and Smith both registered points in Game 2 (both had a hand in Shea Theodore’s second period power-play tally), the trio was left pointless at 5v5 and failed to create many quality scoring chances, as the line combined for just one high-danger scoring chance at 5v5 (both generated by Marchessault).
The top line obviously can’t be counted on to produce points every single night, but this is a classic example of what can go wrong when they don’t generate offense. When the top line isn’t on, you better hope another line steps up. And unfortunately, that didn’t happen Wednesday night.
5. Theodore continues to impress
Though Vegas ended up losing this game, there were a few positive takeaways from their Game 2 defeat. One of them being the regularly impressive play of Shea Theodore. Theodore, a typically excellent play driver, finished the night with a 52.94 Corsi For percentage at 5v5. Nothing special, but solid.
Of course, driving play doesn’t tell the whole story.
In the second third, Theodore scored a huge goal on the power play to cut Washington’s lead in half with just 2:13 remaining in the period. It doesn’t look like much, but Theodore did a fantastic job of wristing his point shot through heavy traffic to bring Vegas within one goal of tying the game up.
Theodore may have finished the night with a minus-2 rating, but his performance in the defensive zone certainly wasn’t pedestrian. One particular play that caught my eye came late in the second period, not long after he scored his power-play tally. Washington had caught Vegas on an odd-man rush with time dying down in the period. John Carlson and Brett Connolly attempted to orchestrate a two-on-one scoring chance with Deryk Engelland mostly taken out of the play, but Theodore did a fantastic job of staying in between the two Washington attackers and block a would-be one-timer opportunity.
We seriously can’t thank you enough, Anaheim Ducks.