The bounces went Vegas’ way in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. But if you believe in higher hockey powers — and most coaches and players do — things were bound to even out. When Braden Holtby sprawled to make an improbable stick save on Alex Tuch with two minutes remaining in the third period of Game 2, Washington coach Barry Trotz knew exactly who to thank.
“To me, it was the hockey gods,” Trotz said. “They evened it up from last game. Once he made that save, I knew we were going to win the game.”
The Capitals indeed preserved a 3-2 win to even this series. But there was plenty of interesting hockey outside of The Save. Here are our five takeaways from Game 2, as the series shifts back to Washington.
This isn’t exactly the goalie duel we all expected
After gushing about Marc-Andre Fleury‘s spectacular play through the first three rounds, raise your hand if you expected him to surrender seven goals in the first two games. Heck, did you think these two teams would combine for 15 goals as the series shifted to Washington?
It was Holtby stealing the show in Game 2 with that save on Tuch. Fleury was scrambling for answers after posting a .885 save percentage in Game 2; he looked a bit more like the inconsistent goalie during his last few years in Pittsburgh than the one who sparkled for Vegas all season long.
Trotz didn’t give a status update on Evgeny Kuznetsov’s injured left arm. Alex Ovechkin said, “I’m pretty sure he’s going to be fine.” Other players spoke about how significant his loss is, and how they’ll step up to fill that void.
If all of this sounds familiar, it’s because it’s pretty much what was said and done after center Nicklas Backstrom injured his hand in Game 5 of the Caps’ second-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins. As the Capitals face life without their leading scorer, who left for the trainers’ room with 5:18 remaining in the first period, the common theme in the dressing room was one of resiliency. Kuznetsov leads the playoffs with 25 points in 21 games.
“It’s a tough break there, but I felt like we came together really as a team. We tried to play better than we did the first 10 minutes. So the second half of the first there and the second period I thought we played pretty good. We kept it simple,” said Backstrom. “It’s all about commitment, too. We blocked shots and we played for each other.”
Trotz believes the injury could be a key moment in the series.
“That really galvanized us,” he said. “You get an all-in mentality. I know how resilient this group has been all year. I think that might be a turning point for us.”
Golden brick wall
The Golden Knights had 69 shot attempts in Game 2, but only 17 scoring chances. Of those 17, only seven were considered high-danger chances.
“I think our guys did a pretty good job of executing their plays, we just didn’t score on a couple of chances,” said defenseman Nate Schmidt. “Going into the next game, I think our guys are gonna be more loose, which I think is good. And when we play a little bit more relaxed, I think we’re good.”
That said, what’s the definition of insanity, and is it “trying to skate through the Capitals’ defense stacked along the blue line rather than playing dump-and-chase hockey”? Because if that’s the definition, the Knights had a clinical case in Game 2. There’s confidence in your offense, but there’s also a case to be made for making adjustments.
Schmidt says there’s no need to panic.
“I think it’s really important that we take a step back and take a deep breath, know that you’re not going to win this series in two games,” he said. “You’re not going to lose the series in two games. Know that we have a confident group in here, a group that can go out and make plays and we’re a special group. We can go out and win games on the road. We’ve done it all playoffs. Should be nothing different moving on.”
Special teams are tilting in Washington’s favor
Ovechkin scored his first goal in a Stanley Cup Final, which felt more like an inevitability — especially how it was scored. On a second-period power play, Ovechkin was left alone in the Ovechkin sweet spot. Easy money.
The Golden Knights had plenty of power plays (five) including a lengthy (and fruitless) 5-on-3 in the third period, but the sizzle just wasn’t there.
“Yeah, you don’t get a whole lot of chances to have 5-on-3s, especially in the Stanley Cup Final,” Schmidt said. “If you’re not going to score, which hey, you’re not going out there expecting it, but at the same time you’ve got to at least generate some momentum.”
The last time Orpik scored a goal, the first “Deadpool” movie was atop the box office. It was Feb. 26, 2016. But in Game 2, the Capitals defenseman scored the game-winning goal against Vegas — and yes, “Deadpool 2” is now in theaters.
He had gone 220 games, including the playoffs, without a goal. At 37 years and 246 days, Orpik became the oldest defenseman to score in the Stanley Cup Final since Nicklas Lidstrom did so at 38 years, 33 days for the Red Wings in Game 4 of the 2008 Final.
“I haven’t yelled that loud for someone to score a goal since Ovi scored one of his milestones,” said winger T.J. Oshie. “Brooksie’s one of those guys. He’s old-school. You only get a handful of them, I think, that you play with throughout your career. He’s one of those guys. So to see him get rewarded with a goal at a big time. It makes me feel good, and I imagine he feels great.”
Orpik is a player his teammates root for because so many others malign him. Trotz mentioned the analytics aren’t strong on Orpik, but they don’t account for his effort and what he means to the team.
Defenseman Matt Niskanen, a teammate of Orpik’s in Washington and Pittsburgh, was more direct.
“What was our Corsi tonight? And did it have any effect on the game? I’ve hated that stat when mine is good. I’ve hated it when mine is bad. Whatever,” he said. “[Orpik] takes a beating on that. I don’t think anybody in here gives a crap.”