By Carter Brooks
Photos by Bruce Bennett and Marc Sanchez
It took a theatrical entrance, an injury to a superstar, and a desperation save, but Head Coach Barry Trotz - the pride of Dauphin, MB. - Lars Eller, Braden Holtby and their Washington Capitals handed the Vegas Golden Knights just their second home loss of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Following an adventuresome 6-4 game one loss in Nevada, the Capitals bounced back on Wednesday, even after the Golden Knights scored the game's opening goal midway through the first period - usually a tell-tale sign of pending victory.
Winnipegger Ryan Reaves, and Washington's tough guy Tom Wilson exchanged blows throughout the evening, but to no avail, the two actually refrained from tossing knuckles at one another - except for a minor Reaves punch to the face of Wilson.
After James Neal opened the scoring with an excellent aerial reception and a bullet of a wrist shot that found its way through Braden Holtby, the Capitals were able to strike back, as Lars Eller collected his sixth goal of the postseason, and first of the night for Washington while the teams skated four-on-four.
The second period featured two power play goals - one for each team - as Alexander Ovechkin finally scored the first Stanley Cup Final goal of his career on a beautiful cross-ice pass from Eller five minutes into the second frame. Defenceman Brooks Orpik collected his first goal in two years on a strong Washington rush up ice, giving the Caps a two-goal lead.
Vegas got one back with two minutes to play in the frame as a seeing-eye Shea Theodore point shot made its way through a crowd of bodies and past Holtby into the Washington cage, bringing the host to within just one goal of the their counterparts.
With Wilson already in the box for interference early in the third period, Eller also found his way into the sin bin, handing the Golden Knights as glorious an opportunity as ever to tie the game (or so we thought). Much to the relief of captain Ovechkin, Washington's penalty killers were up for the challenge, holding off a potent Vegas attack.
With less than three minutes to play in the third, Alex Tuch found himself all alone in front of the Capitals' net with the puck on his stick and netminder Holtby as far from proper position as possible. It was on that moment that Holtby pulled out his inner Holtbeast, and stole the show, diving cross-ice, paddle-first and robbing the 21-year-old forward of a sure goal. saving the game, the day and most likely the series for the visitors.
Holtby - a Lloydminster, AB. native - explained postgame that he was "just trying to make a play", and it was "just another save". But for Barry Trotz - who has yet to win a Cup and bring it back to his home province of Manitoba -, Alex Ovechkin, and the countless Capitals fans across the planet, that paddle save certainly saved the season for Washington.
Eller - who put up a goal and two assists in Wednesday's victory, was propelled into a larger role after star forward Evgeny Kuznetsov left the game and did not return with an apparent hand/wrist injury following a hard check by Brayden McNabb. Due to his removal from the game, Kuznetsov's postseason point streak came to an end at 11 games.
The Golden Knights actually outshot the Capitals 39-26, but Holtby was the difference, stopping 37 of those pucks directed his way, as opposed to Marc-Andre Fleury, who finished the game with a measly 23 saves.
The series now shifts to Washington, as the the Capitals will look to pick up where they left off on Wednesday, this time at home for games three and four (Saturday, Monday). Puck drop for all Stanley Cup Final games is 7:00 P.M. central time. The games can be viewed live on CBC or Sportsnet.