WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Wednesday, it will be seven months since the Vegas Golden Knights played their first regular season game. Since that 2-1 win in Dallas on Oct. 6, it’s been a magical ride for this expansion team that, no matter how you slice it, was not supposed to be in the Stanley Cup Final.
It’s not officially over. It feels over. But for some reason, officially closing the coffin lid and hammering the nails seems premature. Insanity is a weird thing, man.
The Washington Capitals lambasted the Golden Knights 6-2 in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final at Capital One Arena on Monday. The Capitals lead the series 3-1. Washington is one win away from their first ever Stanley Cup. It will get that opportunity on Thursday, in Las Vegas.
Either Thursday will kickstart something only one team in 33 tries has ever done — come back from a 3-1 deficit to win the Stanley Cup — or delay the inevitable, which is a parade down Pennsylvania Avenue to celebrate something Capitals fans have waited over four decades for.
“Nothing easy is good,” said forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. “We’ve been in this position all year long where people don’t believe in us, but we believe in ourselves. We just have to win one game. I’m not thinking about three games. It’s the game at home, focus on that. That’s all we have tonight.”
It won’t be over until the Capitals have that fourth win in their pocket. But ever since Braden Holtby made “The Save” near the end of Game 2, it’s felt like the Capitals’ time. There’s nothing wrong with that. No matter how much the Golden Knights should have been favored to win this series, they have run into a buzzsaw that has played smarter, more patient, and flat-out better than Vegas has. It’s a sight that hasn’t been seen at any point during this season.
The Capitals have done everything right. They’ve taken Vegas’ first line out of these past three games. They are making smart passes at the right time, giving themselves high-danger chances that have made life difficult on Marc-Andre Fleury. It’s a team that has plenty of experience in playoff games against a team that has picked the wrong time to look lost.
The Golden Knights had chances. The Capitals have done more with theirs.
The last three games have turned into one hell of a “What if?” game. What if Holtby doesn’t make that save on Alex Tuch? What if Jonathan Marchessault’s shot from Game 3 doesn’t hit the post? What if Shea Theodore doesn’t lose the puck in the third period that leads to Devante Smith-Pelly’s goal in Game 3? What if the Golden Knights don’t hit the post 3 million times in the first 10 minutes, and what if James Neal actually scores that goal? What comes of this game? What comes of this series?
The world may never know. Getting to the center of a Tootsie Pop sounds more likely.
The Golden Knights feel there’s something good to come out of this shellacking they took Monday, in a twisted sort of way: They thought it was their best game of the series.
“We finally showed our system, our way of play,” Bellemare said. “We created enough bounces to be in the mix. We just didn’t score them.”
It’s been that kind of series for Vegas. They haven’t gotten anything going offensively outside of the six-goal blitz in Game 1 (five goals in three games for one of the best scoring offenses in the league). Washington has taken advantage of the chances it’s been given. That’s why they’re up 3-1 in this series. That’s why the Capitals are one win away from hoisting the Stanley Cup, and it wouldn’t even be a shock if they did it on Thursday after 3,700 games of anguish and heartbreak.
All you need for proof is this.
Three scoring chances. Three goals. What more can the Golden Knights do, especially when Washington is 4-of-11 on the power play through four games?
They’re running into a buzzsaw that is Washington’s top six. Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, John Carlson, Tom Wilson, etc. You name it, Washington is getting it done. When a team is clicking at the right moment like the Capitals, and they’re doing everything right with literally no margin for error or lack of perfection, throw your hands in the air and move on. Good luck trying to pick a Conn Smythe winner out of that bunch.
“I think they’re playing better defensively,” Fleury said of the Capitals after allowing a playoff-high six goals on 23 shots. “They feed their offense through it. They wait back in the zone and when they get the puck, they have a quick transition, get some odd-man rushes. They get some offense that way.”
It’s not over until it’s over. Such a famous saying of such optimistic ilk. I’ve been waiting for the moment to say a team has outplayed the Golden Knights for more than two games in a series and to call it over.
The Washington Capitals have outplayed the Vegas Golden Knights for three straight games.
It might not be time to turn out the lights and say the party’s over, but it’s hard not to at least dim them.
“Nobody’s quitting on this,” Fleury said. “We won four in a row against Winnipeg, who’s a pretty good team. We’ve got to relax, play our game and see where that takes us.”