An abundance of goals? Check. Physical hits? Check. Highlight-reel goals and saves? Check. What does this all add up to? A wildly entertaining Stanley Cup Final.
Through two games of the concluding series between the Vegas Golden Knights and Washington Capitals, we have seen a total of 15 goals, over 100 hits and a multitude of skilled plays from both teams. Golden Knights fans experienced the ultimate robbery Wednesday night when Caps goalie Braden Holtby made arguably the best save of the season to prevent the game-tying goal.
On Saturday night, Vegas will have to leave their extravagant pre-game ceremonies and boisterous fans to play Game 3 in the nation’s capital. In order for the Golden Knights to regain an advantage in this series, here are the keys to winning Game 3.
Re-establish Their Style
In Game 1, Vegas won the speed battle over Washington. In Game 2, despite outshooting the Capitals 39-26, Washington’s physical play was too much for the Golden Knights, creating odd-man rushes that often led to goals.
“I thought we were OK at times during (Game 2),” Vegas head coach Gerard Gallant said.”We had lots of opportunities to score some goals but we didn’t get them. Basically, we’ve got to be better in our own zone. We can’t give as many odd-man rushes as we gave up last night. So just tighten it up a little bit.”
We have arrived in Washington 🛬
Two big games on tap…
& Coach Gallant said it doesn't matter if the team is at home or on the road, gotta stay focused the same wayhttps://t.co/3Qhv64ydAN
— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) May 31, 2018
Expect big games from Knights defensemen Brayden McNabb, Nate Schmidt, Deryk Engelland and Shea Theodore, as they try to limit the scoring chances from Alexander Ovechkin and the Caps’ top line. They need to take care of the puck and to ensure they do not turn it over.
While the refereeing was inconsistent in Game 2, five of the seven penalties called during the game were against Vegas. The Capitals lead the playoffs in powerplay goals with 18; Ovechkin has five of those goals. For the Golden Knights to be successful, they need to prevent taking undisciplined penalties.
Who knows if the referees will keep their whistles in their pocket on Saturday night, but for a detail-oriented team like Vegas, you can be sure coach Gallant is instilling the importance of playing five-on-five and not giving the Caps power-play opportunities.
While Vegas did outshoot the Caps in Game 2, they could not bury their scoring opportunities and their forecheck was inconsistent. For a stretch of 10 minutes in the third period, the Knights did not register a shot on goal.
Expect the Golden Knights to get a better game out of their top line of Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson and Reilly Smith, leading the charge with their speed through the neutral zone into the attacking zone. In Game 2, the Capitals were able to limit Vegas’ top line to two assists, after they generated four points in Game 1.
“Last night, they didn’t have the offensive outburst that they usually have, but you’re not going to be at your best every night,” said Gallant. “I expect them to be real good for us like they have all season long. I’m not really worried about the matchups, to be totally honest with you.”
Golden Knights Must Get Back to Fast Hockey
All season long, the Golden Knights’ strength has been their quick starts and establishing a fast pace. They have a 34-5-2 record when they score the first goal. They need to continue to put pucks to the net and create more traffic and havoc for Braden Holtby, who had 37 saves in Game 2.
“Play more direct. Play to our strengths. Try not to get sucked into the transition game that they want to play,” said Golden Knights defenseman Nate Schmidt.
When the series is tied 1-1, the winner of Game 3 goes on to win the Stanley Cup 78% of the time. Vegas has already won six games on the road in these playoffs. For a team that is so great at home, the Caps are a 4-5 in their building this postseason.
Vegas felt they missed their opportunities in Game 2. It’s time for Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury to have his best game of the series and propel his team to a critical victory on the road.