It took four rounds of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs for the Vegas Golden Knights to finally experience a crisis of confidence, whether they acknowledge it or not. That’s what this driven, stingy Washington Capitals team is capable of.
The Capitals also stand as the first team to give the Cinderella Golden Knights back-to-back playoff defeats. (You know, if you needed another reminder of just how sensational Vegas’ run has been. Golden Knights fans might appreciate that comfort, as they haven’t been to that “sad playoff place” all that often.)
Game 3 of the 2018 Stanley Cup Final was about as close to how Barry Trotz would draw it up as possible.
Most importantly for Trotz, the Capitals took a 2-1 series lead after beating the Golden Knights 3-1 on Saturday night. The only thing that was “fluky” about this outcome, honestly, was the lone Vegas goal Braden Holtby allowed on quite the flub of a giveaway.
Then again, even that moment opened the door for an in-game story of redemption. After interfering on a potential 1-0 goal during the first period, Devante Smith-Pelly killed any sense of drama by restoring a two-goal lead with a pretty 3-1 tally.
Vegas has been able to lean heavily on Marc-Andre Fleury during its inaugural season, and “The Flower” delivers more often than not. Still, the Golden Knights have been able to come through with fast, aggressive hockey during most of their run, yet Trotz’s system and Washington’s talent is grinding the gears of this machine to a halt.
It’s been quite the change of pace compared to a hectic Game 1, as Vegas struggled in transition and to get to the prime scoring areas. While Fleury was being asked to make highlight reel save after highlight reel save, Holtby went from that dazzling Alex Tuch stop in Game 2 to a relatively quiet night at the office tonight.
From blocked shots to winning faceoffs to the bigger-picture stuff such as winning battles and puck possession, the Capitals dominated this Game 3. The Golden Knights are in the rare position of needing to find some answers, and fast.
Jonathan Marchessault generated his fair share of opportunities in Game 3, but it seems like Vegas needs a spark from players beyond Fleury and that top line (especially with Marchessault’s puck luck drying up).
While Vegas’ top line hasn’t been lighting up the scoreboard, the Capitals’ biggest names came through in a huge way. Alex Ovechkin simply willed his way to one of the best goals of the postseason (more on that here), while Evgeny Kuznetsov managed to score the game-winner despite being a game-time decision.
The Capitals must feel awfully good about themselves as they go up 2-1 in this series.
Vegas, meanwhile, can take comfort in only being down one game. They can also note that, as poorly as they played, they were within one goal of tying things up in the third period. While the down side is that they wasted another epic Fleury performance, there are positives to coming that close even when few things seemed to be working.
Those moral victories won’t mean a lot if the literal defeats keep piling up. It’s up to Gerard Gallant to make adjustments and this stunning team to find even more magic.