The role Lars Eller plays on this Capitals team is one that typically goes overlooked and unnoticed.
Until Nicklas Backstrom goes down with a hand injury. Or Evgeny Kuznetsov is injured on a hit from Brayden McNabb.
Eller can play anywhere in the lineup. He’s as capable of playing top-line minutes as he is doing the third and fourth-line grunt work. He can play wing if such a need is necessary. The quintessential swiss army knife. When top players go down, which is not uncommon in the relentless, unforgiving two-month path to the Cup, a player like that proves invaluable.
Never was that more on display than in Wednesday’s Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final, a 3-2 Capitals win that evened the series 1-1.
Kuznetsov was lost for the game after being injured on a hit from McNabb during the first period. That led to Backstrom being bumped up to Kuznetsov’s spot on the top line between Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson while Eller came up to the line Backstrom centered between Jakub Vrana and T.J. Oshie, a trio that was coming off a strong effort in Game 1 despite the loss for Washington. Eller went on to score a goal and while getting a pair of primary assists, both of which were textbook passes to Ovechkin and Brooks Orpik, respectively.
The type of puck movement that will be shown to kids at hockey camps this summer.
Eller could’ve had a point or two more, as well. It didn’t matter who he was playing with, whether it was his third-line flanks Andre Burakovsky and Brett Connolly, second-line partners Oshie and Vrana, or Ovechkin and Backstrom on the powerplay, whenever Eller was on the ice, he was making things happen. The tape on his stick was in lockstep with the puck. It was just one of those nights.
And it’s been one of those postseasons for Eller, who has 17 points (6-11) in 21 games in these playoffs. He filled in admirably when Backstrom went down during the Second Round and missed four games. He took over the game on Wednesday when Kuznetsov went down.
It’s the type of player Eller is, going back to when he was in Montreal. A guy who can play anywhere, and with anyone. And he’s been every bit of that and more this postseason for Washington.
Play of the night
Nothing in sports makes fans jump out of their seats, makes social media blow up quite like a paddle save during the third period of a playoff game.
What a save by Holtby. Save of the playoffs. A once-every-five-years type of save.
And what a night for Holtby, who finished with 37 saves on 39 shots, bouncing back from a rough Game 1. He outplayed Marc-Andre Fleury after Fleury got the upper-hand on Monday with a big third period. Like they say, the game should be called goalie.
*The Capitals won the first Stanley Cup Final game in their franchise history on Wednesday night.
*This guarantees the Caps won’t be swept like they were in 1998 by the Red Wings. That 1998 Cup Final was the last time there was a sweep in the Stanley Cup.
*Lots of tempers boiling over with quite a few scrums, including one after the final horn sounded to end the game. It was something you could sense coming, with a lot of physical, even chippy play through these first two games.
*Shea Theodore has had two really strong outings to begins the series. It was nice to see him rewarded with a goal in the third period. Here’s a good look at how the 22-year-old is establishing himself as a full-time NHLer after a couple years of shuttling back and forth between the NHL and AHL.
*Through two games the game-winning goals have gone to Tomas Nosek and Brooks Orpik. I gave you guys the heads up that would probably happen but nobody would listen.
*For Orpik: 1st goal in 221 games, regular season and playoffs, dating back to 2016. First goal in 56 playoff games stretching back to 2014.
*The last time Brooks Orpik scored a goal, Las Vegas had not yet been awarded a franchise.
*James Neal opened the scoring on a great shot that stung the top corner to give the Golden Knights a 1-0 lead 7:58 in. This was the shot of the night.
*Hard hat: Matt Niskanen – Didn’t show up on the scoresheet but put up plenty of crooked numbers in other categories, with three shots, four hits, and blocking a shot. He played a game-high 27:13, including 5:25 of shorthanded time.
*Speaking of which, big night of penalty killing for the Capitals, who held the Golden Knights to one powerplay goal on five opportunities. The effort was highlighted by killing off a 1:09-long 5-on-3 during the third period.
*One last thought: A sneak preview at Game 3 on Saturday night – Vegas is 3-0 following losses in these playoffs, with Marc-Andre Fleury allowing seven goals on 103 shots. Meanwhile the Capitals are 4-5 at home this postseason.