Desperation accompanies the Golden Knights as they arrive back in town for Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final.
Facing a 3-1 deficit to the Washington Capitals, the Golden Knights must now win three straight games to finish off their inaugural season with an NHL championship. Here’s a refresher on how the series has arrived at its current juncture.
Game 1 Final score: Vegas 6, Washington 4
Key moment: A minute-and-a-half after the Capitals took a 4-3 lead early in the third period, Golden Knights’ fourth-liner Ryan Reaves collected a rebound in front of the net and poked it past goalie Braden Holtby. Reaves, who didn’t score in the regular season with the Golden Knights, managed a massive, momentum-swinging goal for the second straight game.
Biggest goal: Reaves’ similarly underappreciated linemate, Tomas Nosek, scores the game-winner seven minutes later after defenseman Shea Theodore threaded a pass through traffic to find him open on the left side of the net.
Telling stat: Three total goals by Vegas’ fourth line of Reaves, Nosek and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. The bottom of the Golden Knights’ depth chart won them the game.
Final word: “I’m not totally happy with that game,” Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant said. “But the bottom line, we won the game so we’re going to be a lot happier than they are. It was a bit of a sloppy game, two teams still feeling each other out.”
Game 2 Final score: Washington 3, Vegas 2
Key moment: Washington goalie Braden Holtby makes a potentially legendary save with two minutes remaining in the game and his team clinging to a 3-2 lead. Vegas had attacked throughout the period, and got its best chance when Cody Eakin corralled the puck off the boards and fired a pass to Alex Tuch on the other side of the net. Holtby dives and outstretches his stick just in time to knock Tuch’s attempt away.
Biggest goal: Superstar Alex Ovechkin gets on the board in the series by finishing a perfectly executed Washington power play. The Capitals’ puck movement from Lars Eller to Nicklas Backstrom to Ovechkin was flawless, leaving little chance for Vegas goalie Marc-Andre Fleury to stop a goal that gave Washington a lead, 2-1 at the time, it never relinquished.
Telling stat: 37 saves by Braden Holtby. Vegas was able to pressure Washington late, but couldn’t crack the goalie who came into the Stanley Cup Final having not allowed a goal in 159 straight minutes of play.
Final word: “I think we were trying to be a little bit too fancy at times,” Golden Knights defenseman Shea Theodore said. “That’s not our game. We really have to simplify a lot of things and get back to our roots.”
Game 3 Final score: Washington 3, Vegas 1
Key moment: Jonathan Marchessault gets a puck past Braden Holtby late in the first period, but it clanks off of the post to keep the contest scoreless. It was Vegas’ first shot on goal of even-strength play despite coming 14 minutes into the game, making for an anemic offense showing that would plague the Golden Knights for the rest of the night. But it’s hard not to think everything could have been different if Marchessault’s shot was an inch to the left.
Biggest goal: Capitals’ fourth-line wing Devante Smith-Pelly iced the game by flipping the puck over Marc-Andre Fleury’s left shoulder and into the net with seven minutes to play. Linemate Jay Beagle started the sequence by intercepting a pass behind the goal, and finding Smith-Pelly in prime scoring position right in front of the crease. Putting the Golden Knights at a two-goal deficit, the score greatly diminished any possible comeback chance.
Telling stat: 63 percent of face-offs won by the Capitals. Face-off statistics are generally regarded as useless and likely to equal out over time, but Washington’s dominance certainly seemed to factor into its Game 3 win. Washington’s success in the circle was able to kick start its fast-paced attack and limit Vegas’ possessions.
Final word: “I think it will be important to remind everyone that it is not over,” Golden Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. “It’s just 2 to 1. There is still plenty of time to return to this series.”
Game 4 Final score: Washington 6, Vegas 2
Key moment: An encouraging start looks like it will pay off in a 1-0 lead for the Golden Knights when James Neal receives a pass with a wide-open net in front of him. Neal then inexplicably misses the shot off of the far post, failing to convert on an attempt he later laments he’d make “nine out of 10 times.” It’s a sign that the Golden Knights’ problems in finishing off scoring chances from the previous two games aren’t yet solved, and they look deflated as they go on to give up three first-period goals.
Biggest goal: Golden Knights’ agitator Tom Wilson cuts in front of the net, fields a pass from Evgeny Kuznetsov and slides the puck between Fleury’s knee and elbow to give the Capitals a 2-0 lead. The Capitals’ first even-strength goal sends Capital One Arena into a frenzy, and the team adds another score three minutes later.
Telling stat: .739 save percentage by Fleury, his worst showing of the playoffs. Vegas’ previously impenetrable goalie allowed six of 23 shots on goal to get past him. They weren’t all his fault, as the Golden Knights had several defensive breakdowns, but Vegas reached the Stanley Cup Final in the first place because Fleury consistently avoided any semblance of an off night.
Final word: “Obviously, we have no more room for error so we’ve got to get ready for the next game,” Gallant said.