(Reuters) – Lars Eller held all the aces in Las Vegas on Wednesday, contributing to all three goals as the Washington Capitals beat the Golden Knights 3-2 to claim their first ever Stanley Cup finals victory.
Eller turned the odds in Washington’s favor by scoring a goal and setting up the others to ensure the Capitals travel home to host Game Three and Four with the best-of-seven series against the first-year Golden Knights tied at 1-1.
“Every time we have faced adversity whether it is down in games or lose guys, everyone just steps up,” Eller told reporters. “We have to do the same things (going home) we did tonight, try to dictate the play, make them turn over pucks.”
The Capitals joined the NHL in 1974 and have only advanced to the Stanley Cup finals once before when they were swept in four games by the Detroit Red Wings 20 years ago.
After an extravagant pre-game show worthy of a night out on the Strip, complete with Golden Knights fighting off invading hordes of Capitals, the real battle got underway with Vegas drawing first blood as James Neal rifled a wrist shot from the left faceoff circle past Braden Holtby.
Getting the first goal has usually been a good omen for the Golden Knights, who boasted an 11-1 record this post-season when they opened the scoring.
After falling behind, Eller struck his first blow for the Capitals with just under three minutes remaining in the opening period before setting up Washington’s go ahead power-play goal in the second.
Spotting Ovechkin unmarked off the far post, Eller sent a laser feed to the brilliant Russian sniper, who made no mistake one-timing it past Marc-Andre Fleury to notch his first ever Stanley Cup Finals goal.
Orpik pushed the Washington lead to 3-1 when his shot found its way through a crowd in front of the Vegas net and clanged off both posts, but Theodore’s power-play goal wold trim the advantage to just one heading into the second intermission.
After surrendering six goals in a Game One loss, Holtby rebounded with a brilliant 37-save performance and produced his dazzling best in a scoreless third period.
With under two minutes to go, Holtby made a stunning save to deny Alex Tuch when the goalie threw himself across the goalmouth to get his stick on the puck and rob Vegas of what appeared to be a certain equalizer.
“I was just trying to get over there and I got fortunate,” offered a humble Holtby.
It was the ninth road win for the Capitals in these playoffs, one short of tying the NHL post-season record.
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by John O’Brien)