The Capitals are near-unbeatable when they establish the physical tone in a game. They did just that on Saturday night and they’re two wins shy of a Stanley Cup as a result.
Right off the opening hop, the Caps were flying. They ran over and ran through anything and everything on the ice. Washington forced Vegas into a physical, checking game, and the Golden Knights played right into the Capitals hands.
Washington dominated for the first 40 minutes of the game. The only thing that kept the game 2-0 after two periods as opposed to 6-0 was Marc-Andre Fleury, who was spectacular. Fleury made 23 saves, several of which were of the ‘wow what a save’ variety. Fleury was the reason the Golden Knights were very much in it when they came out fast in the third period and were in position tie it after Tomas Nosek cut the lead to 2-1 early in the period.
You have to credit the Caps, who executed the gameplan and got the Golden Knights to play a certain way. It got Vegas off their game and they never really recovered from it.
That’s what the theme has been for Washington in these playoffs. Guys stepping up big in key moments, and players rising to the occasion and elevating their game. It hadn’t happened enough in years prior but it’s happened plenty this year. It’s what has them this close to the Cup.
Speaking of players stepping up..
Evgeny Kuznetsov and Alex Ovechkin are the catalysts of this Capitals team. Those two guys have been unbelievable this postseason and the rest of the team seems to feed off it.
Kuznetsov left Game 2 with an upper-body injury that didn’t look good based on how he left the ice following the hit he took from Brayden McNabb that caused the injury. He came back for Game 3 and all he did was score a goal and assist, upping his NHL-high point total this postseason to 27.
Oh, and he brought back the arm-flapping celly after scoring his 12th goal of the postseason.
Meanwhile, Ovechkin made history of his own by scoring his 14th goal of the playoffs in the second period, tying John Druce for the most all-time by a Capital in a single postseason.
And obviously the big story with Kuznetsov is the injury he suffered that knocked him out of Game 2. Then he comes out and puts forth a performance like that in Game 3. It reminds you of what Sean Couturier did for the Flyers back in the First Round when he suffered a knee injury colliding with Radko Gudas in practice. We found out after the fact Couturier was playing on a torn MCL. I can see us learning that Kuznetsov was playing with a similar type of injury after this series is over.
Play of the night
What a goal. First the effort by Jay Beagle to win that foot race with Shea Theodore then fish the puck out of the corner and get it to Devante Smith-Pelly, who put it high corner with a beauty of a shot. That goal pretty much sealed the win for the Capitals and ended any hopes of Vegas finishing off their third-period rally.
*Evgeny Kuznetsov is sitting on 27 points this postseason. Only four players have reached 30 since the 2004-05 lockout – Evgeni Malkin (36 in 2008-09), Sidney Crosby (31 in 2008-09), Daniel Briere (30 in 2009-10), and Logan Couture (30 in 2015-16).
*Alex Ovechkin has 14 goals this postseason. Only one player since 1997 has 15 – Sidney Crosby.
*This heat map put out by Neil Greenberg of the Washington Post is a snapshot of just how dominant Ovechkin has been.
*This is the first time a Washington team has held a series lead in a championship round since the Bullets led the SuperSonics 1-0 in the 1979 NBA Finals.
*Let’s put that into context before simply saying ‘WOW, Washington went 39 years without leading a championship series.’ First and foremost, the Redskins have won three Super Bowls in that span, and obviously the NFL doesn’t have playoff series. For 26 of those 39 years, Washington didn’t have a MLB franchise. And despite being in the mix quite a few times, the Nationals haven’t reached the World Series since relocating to Washington from Montreal in 2005. So this isn’t necessarily Buffalo we’re talking about here.
*A good sign for the Caps – of the 27 times the Stanley Cup Final was tied 1-1 prior to this year, the Game 3 winner has gone on to win the Stanley Cup in 21 of those series.
*A good sign for Vegas – the last three teams to fall behind 2-1 after splitting the first two games has won the Stanley Cup – the 2013 and ’15 Blackhawks, and the 2004 Lightning. The last team to win after splitting the first two games and winning Game 3 was the 2002 Red Wings.
*Hard hat: Jay Beagle – When the Capitals play their best, Beagle always seems to be one of the guys setting the tone. That was the case again on Saturday, when he finished with two assists and was a plus-two in 13:25.
*Matt Niskanen was incredible again on Saturday. Four hits, three blocks, plus-two in 27:16. Logged 2:26 shorthanded. Niskanen is one of the big reasons the Caps are up 2-1 right now.
*Michal Kempny stepped on a puck during warmups and went down, hitting his face hard against the boards. Scary situation, one that can be very dangerous (i.e. Taylor Hall). The spill ceded itself to a look that is peak Stanley Cup Final.
*One last thought: This image will live forever. Alex Ovechkin is playing his best hockey and living his best life right now.