WASHINGTON — It’s as if the Washington Capitals have learned the secret of the Vegas Golden Knights’ magic, decoded their DNA and discovered a way to eliminate their superpowers.
The Capitals ignored a strong first-period push by the Golden Knights to down them 6-2 and claim a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven Stanley Cup Final. They need one win to claim the first win in Washington’s 44-year history.
“When it mattered, we were able to get it done,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. “That’s what this team has done in the course of the playoffs. Even when maybe we were not at our best, we have got it done.”
The Golden Knights have earned rave reviews this season for their great starts, and relentless playing style. They pushed hard in the opening minutes, hit a post and missed a couple of chances and found themselves trailing 3-0 after one period.
The Capitals have a lengthy history of postseason failures, but now history is on their side. It has been 76 years since any NHL teams rebounded from a 3-1 series deficit to win the Stanley Cup. The Toronto Maple Leafs erased a 3-0 deficit in 1942 against the Detroit Red Wings.
“We are trying to write our own story here and seems like the rest of the city is on board with that,” said Washington’s T.J. Oshie, who had a goal and two assists.
One of the strengths of this Washington team has been the players’ ability to move past the losing postseason culture.
“We don’t dwell on the game before, let alone things that happened in years past,” Oshie said. “We know there’s been heartbreak here, but that has scarred over and made us stronger for it.”
In the two games in Washington, the Capitals outscored Vegas 9-3. Evgeny Kuznetsov had four assists in Game 4, giving him six points in those two games. Oshie scored, along with John Carlson, Tom Wilson, Michal Kempny and Brett Connolly.
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With a league-leading 31 points, Kuznetsov is making a case to be the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as playoff MVP. If he doesn’t win it, Alex Ovechkin will. He has 26 points.
Washington’s most important players are producing, while the Golden Knights’ top line of Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson and Reilly Smith hasn’t found the net with regularity in this series. That trio combined for 92 goals in the regular season, but they have one goal in the series.
“In any offense in this league, your stars lead the way,” Trotz said.
The expansion Golden Knights have been impressive this entire season and through three rounds of the playoffs. They haven’t been able to finish in this round.
Vegas winger James Neal hitting the post early in the first epitomized their lack of puck luck. Washington goalie Braden Holtby said after the game he thought it was in.
“I thought we played our best period of the Final (in the first period),” said Vegas coach Gerard Gallant. “We had some good chances, and we got nothing out of it.”
Gallant added that “we played a lot of the game the way we wanted to play.”
Holtby has given up four goals in the last three games. Have the Golden Knights run out of luck or are the Capitals simply playing at a higher level?
Is the difference that Vegas is a well-balanced skilled team, but Washington is a well-balanced skilled team that has the added element of stars such Ovechkin, Kuznetsov and Carlson?
In the tighter-checking Stanley Cup Final, the Golden Knights have not been able to match the Capitals’ ability to make the big plays when needed most.