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Only one team has erased 3-1 Final deficit, and it was madness

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If the Vegas Golden Knights are going to complete this improbable storybook season and win the Stanley Cup they are going to have to make some more history and do something that only one other team in NHL history has ever done: Overcome a 3-1 series deficit in the Stanley Cup Final.

While several teams have overcome such a deficit in the playoffs (including, improbably, five teams against the Washington Capitals!) only one team has actually done it in the Stanley Cup Final series.

It has not happened since 1942 when the Toronto Maple Leafs did it against the Detroit Red Wings.

Since then teams that have faced such a deficit in the Final series are holding an 0-31 record when it comes to winning the series. Obviously, history is not on the Golden Knights’ side. But Vegas has been making history all year and doing things that no other team has ever done.

[Related: Golden Knights hoping to learn from mistakes and mount Cup comeback]

So what is one more improbable accomplishment to add to the list?

If they are going to do it they are probably going to need Marc-Andre Fleury to return to the form he displayed in the first three rounds. They are going to need their top-line to get back on track and get some secondary scoring from pretty much any other line. They have to put the puck in open nets when they have the chance. They are going to have to find an answer for Evgeny Kuznetsov and Alex Ovechkin.

All of those are tall tasks.

Given what Vegas has to do let’s hop in a time machine and take a look back at the only team to actually complete such a comeback — the aforementioned 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs — because it might be one of the wildest Stanley Cup Final series in league history.

First, it was an historic accomplishment because it was the first time a Stanley Cup Final series had ever gone to a seventh game. It was not just that the Maple Leafs overcame a 3-1 series deficit, they overcome a 3-0 series deficit becoming the first team to ever do it in any sport.

It was in Game 4 of that series in Detroit where everything started to shift in Toronto’s favor, and it was in that game where all hell broke loose.

The Maple Leafs won that game by a 4-3 margin thanks to a late goal from Nick Metz.

But that goal was probably not the series-altering moment.

The game ended in a near riot thanks to some controversial officiating and then-Red Wings coach Jack Adams getting into a literal physical altercation with referee Mel Harwood, resulting in league president Frank Calder suspending him for the rest of the series.

Don’t believe me? Don’t take my word for it, take the Canadian Press’ word for it.

From the April 13, 1942 edition:

“The game ended in a near-riot, when manager Jack Adams of the Red Wings ran across the ice at the final whistle and started trading punches with referee Mel Harwood. Other players joined in and Harwood was escorted out of the rink by police.”

Madness!

What prompted Adams’ meltdown? In the closing minutes of the game Harwood issued consecutive penalties to Red Wings players Eddie Wares and Don Grosso, infuriating the team and Adams. It all started when Wares was issued a misconduct penalty and refused to leave the ice in protest.

At that point Harwood dropped the puck with Wares still on the ice, resulting in him promptly calling a too-many-men on the ice penalty and sending off Grosso.

Let’s go back to the CP for the full play-by-play:

The final-whistle blowoff started with a last-minute faceoff when Wares was handed a misconduct penalty, and then a $50 fine for repeated arguments and refusal to leave the ice. When the faceoff came, Wares was still on the ice and Detroit drew another penalty. With Grosso also sent to the bench, Grosso threw down his stick and gloves and promptly drew a $25 fine from referee Harwood.

That ended the game on a wild note, and the excitement flared again when Adams rushed on the ice and started swinging with Harwood. It was then that Calder jumped from his box to get the referee’s report on the incident.

Calder’s statement said: ‘For an attack on officials at the Stanley Cup game between the Detroit Re Wings and the Toronto MAple Leafs at Detroit Olympia April 12 of which I was an eye-witness, manager Jack Adams of Detroit is indefinitely suspended and prohibited from taking any further part in the bench management of the Detroit Red Wings. For their part in the affair, players Wares and Grosso are each fined $100.”

The Canadian Press report also included the nugget that The Olympia crowd had shown a dislike for the officiating by “constant booing and littering the rink with everything from paper and peanuts to a woman’s shoe.”

So much to take in here.

First, how crazy is it that on-ice officials could just hand out fines to players during games?

Then the fact that a coach actually raced across the ice and literally traded punches with an official!

Try to imagine that scene unfolding today.

Try to imagine Tom Wilson taking a penalty in the final minute of a game, refusing to leave the ice as he argues with Wes McCauley, then McCauley getting all sorts of petty and dropping the puck with Wilson still on the ice just so he could assess a too many men on the ice penalty to Jay Beagle, and then Barry Trotz storming across the ice to punch McCauley in the face. All while peanuts and women’s shoes rained down from the stands.

It was a different time, I guess.

After the game Wares told the CP, “You know what’s going to happen. It is going to go seven games.”

He was right.

With Adams suspended for the remainder of the series the Maple Leafs came out flying in Game 5 and routed the Red Wings 9-3 thanks to an unlikely hat trick from Don Metz (a player that had scored just 20 goals in 170 career games).

That was followed by Maple Leafs goalie Turk Broda recording a Game 6 shutout to send the series to a decisive seventh game where the Maple Leafs would take it 3-1, completing the comeback.

Nobody has ever done it in the Stanley Cup Final since.

Maybe it will happen this year?

MORE:
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub
• Stanley Cup Final Guide
• Stanley Cup Final schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Should Golden Knights have pulled Marc-Andre Fleury in Game 4?

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Golden Knights netminder Marc-Andre Fleury came into the Stanley Cup Final with a .947 save percentage. Pretty good, right? Well, let’s just say that number has gone down thanks to the Washington Capitals, who have scored at least three goals on him in each game.

Fleury’s save percentage has now dropped to .929. That’s a great number, but not when you were 18 points higher just four games ago.

Game 4 was particularly rough for Vegas, as they allowed six goals in their 6-2 loss in Washington. Many wondered whether or not head Gerard Gallant should have pulled Fleury in the first intermission when the team was down 3-0 or even in the second intermission when they were trailing by four. In the end, Gallant decided to stick with his starting goalie.

When asked if he ever considered it, Gallant had this to say, per the Las Vegas Review-Journal:

“No. I think at least five of the six goals were wide-open nets. There was nothing he could have done.”

It’s a fair point. Of the six goals the Caps scored on Fleury, how many could he have stopped? There’s no way he’s coming up with the Oshie power-play goal (1-0), Tom Wilson was left totally alone in the slot (2-0), Devante Smith-Pelly made a great play to get the puck from his skate to his stick (3-0), no goalie is coming up with the John Carlson rocket one-timer (4-0), Kempny had all the space in the world on his one-timer (5-2) and Brett Connolly cashed in on a 5-on-3 power play (6-2). There’s not much Fleury could have done on any of those goals.

Another reason people may have wanted to see Fleury come out of the game was so that he could get additional rest ahead of a do-or-die Game 5. Sure, extra rest couldn’t hurt, but there’s still two full off days between the last game and the one coming up (they don’t play again until Thursday). If Game 5 was on Wednesday night, maybe that changes things. The fact that there’s an extra day is probably one of the reasons why he stayed in there.

Upon further review, there’s nothing wrong with the way the Golden Knights handled their goaltending situation in Game 4. Fleury played the whole game and there’s nothing wrong with that.

MORE:
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub
• Stanley Cup Final Guide

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Evgeny Kuznetsov’s impact on Capitals, Stanley Cup Final grows

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WASHINGTON — The messages to Tom Wilson have been short and to the point from Evgeny Kuznetsov: keep your stick on the ice and I’ll find you.

Late in the first period of the Washington Capitals’ 6-2 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 4, Kuznetsov and Wilson did a little cycling in the corner to the right of Marc-Andre Fleury. Wilson dropped the puck to Kuznetsov, who then started driving toward the Vegas net before firing off a pass to Wilson, who buried his opportunity to make it 2-0.

This is the Kuznetsov we’ve grown to appreciate. The one with 185 career assists. The one who can find seams between sticks and skates and hit your tape to create a scoring chance.

During these playoffs, however, we’ve seen a different Kuznetsov of sorts. He’s been shooting more, having fired off 87 shots in 23 games. Those shots are going in, as evidenced by his 12 goals. And his passes are still finding the tapes of his teammates, which resulted in four assists in Game 4 and a playoff leading 31 points, which is also a Capitals franchise record.

[Why Kuznetsov has been a nightmare to stop during playoffs]

“He’s a pretty dynamic player. He’s one of the best players in the world,” said Wilson. “He finds guys like no one else really does. He has a huge affect on every game.”

As you might expect from a guy who’s always had a “pass first” mentality, he’s more satisfied handing out assists than scoring goals. Whatever helps the teams.

“I can shoot a couple times, but I saw a couple guys were open,” Kuznetsov said about his four-assist night. “I really feel that keeps the goalie a little bit in a tough situation when guy is in a good position, but he’s still looking for the pass.”

His four assists Monday night made him only the fifth NHL player in the last 31 years to do so in a Stanley Cup Final game, and the first since Joe Sakic in 1996. With his 31 playoff points, he’s also only the sixth player since 1996 to reach that mark. His Conn Smythe Trophy resume is looking quite good.

Kuznetsov has grown into a focal point of the offense, having finished in the top three in scoring on the team in each of the past three seasons. The Capitals drafted him in the first-round in 2010, but had to wait until late in the 2013-14 season before he made his NHL debut. He spent those years in the KHL developing into an all-star, winning gold at the IIHF World Junior Championship and IIHF World Championship before finally arriving in North America.

It didn’t take long for Kuznetsov to prove his worth on the Capitals and show that he was really worth the wait. 

“People don’t really know him as well as Ovi and you’re seeing the talent of Kuzy,” said Capitals head coach Barry Trotz. “You’ve seen the greatness of Ovi over the course of his career to this point. I think Kuzy’s just getting better and better. He’s taken a bigger piece of this team. He came year one when I was here and was just learning to play the North American game, how important it was to keep pucks alive. It’s a different game. It’s small space. You have to do that. Over in Europe, it’s a little bit more of a regroup, sort of a soccer mentality, if you will. It’s a little slower pace and he’s learning to adjust. 

“As he’s grown as player in North America, he’s gotten better and he’s taken a bigger piece of our team every year. I think he’s one of the top centermen in the league now.”

Stanley Cup Final schedule
Game 1 Monday, May 28 – Golden Knights 6, Capitals 4
Game 2 Wednesday, May 30 – Capitals 3, Golden Knights 2
Game 3 Saturday, June 2 – Capitals 3, Golden Knights 1
Game 4 Monday, June 4 – Capitals 6, Golden Knights 2 (Capitals lead series 3-1)
Game 5 Thursday, June 7 – Capitals at Golden Knights, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
Game 6* Sunday, June 10 – Golden Knights at Capitals, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
Game 7* Wednesday, June 13 – Capitals at Golden Knights, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
* = If necessary

MORE:
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub
• Stanley Cup Final Guide

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Three-goal first period helps put Capitals one win away from Lord Stanley

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There are moments that define every Stanley Cup Final for the team that gets to hoist Lord Stanley’s mug.

In Game 2, it was Braden Holtby’s paddle save. In Game 3, it was Evgeny Kuznetsov’s one-goal, one-assist performance after being a question mark heading into the game with an undisclosed injury.

But Game 4’s defining moment had nothing to do with the Washington Capitals at all, at least not initially.

With the Washington Capitals taking a 3-1 series lead in the best-of-7 back to Vegas after a 6-2 win on Monday, it was James Neal‘s first-period gaffe on a wide-open net that might haunt the expansion Golden Knights for a while to come.

The miss rattled the Capitals to attention and the ensuing a three-goal outburst by Washington only illuminated further the magnitude of Neal’s near-miss.

T.J. Oshie got things started on the power play, Tom Wilson made it worse and Devante Smith-Pelly twisted the dagger on a bad turnover as the Capitals took a 3-0 lead into the first intermission.

Vegas never recovered.

They struck iron three times in the first period and heard that familiar ‘ping’ sound twice more in the second frame.

John Carlson hit a post, too, only his shot caromed off the inside of it and hit mesh not long after to make it 4-0 as Washington’s lethal power play kept its reign of destruction (they’re 4-for-12 in the series now after going 3-for-5 in Game 4). Washington has 20 goals on the power play in the playoffs.

Evgeny Kuznetsov provided the cross-ice pass to Carlson, giving him a hat-trick of assists in the game and his 30th point of the playoffs. Kuznetsov added another late in the game for a four-point night.

Did someone say Conn Smythe?

That trophy could be in the hands of Kuznetsov as early as Thursday night (although let’s not kid ourselves — it’s probably going to be given to Alex Ovechkin) in Vegas as the series shifts back to Nevada for Game 5.

Vegas managed to find two goals (Neal with a hint of redemption and Reilly Smith found twine, too) in the third period, but it was all just a little too late.

If there was hope of a comeback, it was ripped apart by Michal Kempny‘s one-timer with just over six minutes left to make it 5-2 and then cemented by Brett Connolly‘s 6-2 marker as Washington enjoyed a two-man advantage.

For Vegas, it’s win or bust now. Everything that got them this far seems to have fled the vicinity.

Marc-Andre Fleury continues to struggle, putting up his fourth consecutive sub-.800 save percentage performance. Vegas’ treasure trove of goals has imploded and their speed has run out of gas.

Vegas scored six goals in Game 1 but has just five in the three games that followed.

And they now own the most daunting of tasks: win three in a row.

The math isn’t good.

Stanley Cup Final schedule
Game 1 Monday, May 28 – Golden Knights 6, Capitals 4
Game 2 Wednesday, May 30 – Capitals 3, Golden Knights 2
Game 3 Saturday, June 2 – Capitals 3, Golden Knights 1 
Game 4 Monday, June 4 – Capitals 6, Golden Knights 2 (Washington leads series 3-1)
Game 5 Thursday, June 7 – Capitals at Golden Knights, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
Game 6* Sunday, June 10 – Golden Knights at Capitals, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
Game 7* Wednesday, June 13 – Capitals at Golden Knights, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)

* = If necessary

MORE:

• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub
• Stanley Cup Final Guide


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

James Neal’s miss leads to Capitals’ offensive eruption (Video)

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Oh man, James Neal is going to see this one in his nightmares.

We’ve already seen the save of the Stanley Cup Final. Now we have the frontrunner for miss of the series as well.

Neal found a way to miss a wide-open net from point-blank, firing the puck from the left side of Braden Holtby off the right post behind him, off Holtby’s blocker and back into play.

Vegas began the game on a tear, pushing the pressure in the Capitals zone for the first six minutes or so of the period, but failed to capitalize on their chances after hitting three posts early on.

Neal’s miss proved to be devastating, given how Washington stuck it in sixth gear and began scoring at will.

Colin Miller took a tripping penalty not long after Neal’s miss and the T.J. Oshie promptly ended Vegas’ momentum as he snatched a 1-0 lead for Washington.

With that wound still fresh, Tom Wilson rubbed some more salt in it, making it 2-0 late. And the bleeding didn’t stop there as Devante Smith-Pelly scored with 21 seconds left in the period.

A game of inches, they say.

MORE:
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub
• Stanley Cup Final Guide


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck