Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final is a wrap, with the Golden Knights using their incredible home ice advantage to win a 6-4 thriller. Let’s take a look at a few storylines for Game 2.
1. Will the Vegas Golden Knights Have a Response for Tom Wilson?
Tom Wilson has gone and done it again.
No, we’re not talking about scoring from the seat of his pants, which he did indeed do (sort 0f). In the third period, Wilson laid out Jonathan Marchessault with a questionable late hit. Marchessault was sent to the locker room for concussion protocol, although he would return, while Wilson was assessed a minor penalty after an on-ice review from the officials.
Despite cries for a suspension, there will be no additional discipline from the league, but will there be a response from the Golden Knights? We certainly know Ryan Reaves is the man for the job, having recently proclaimed himself “the toughest guy in the league” despite not having dropped the gloves since being acquired at the deadline, but is the Final really the time to be out there seeking revenge?
Emotions certainly run high, and he will be on the back of the player’s minds, but going after Wilson should wait until next season.
2. Will the Refs Call a Tighter Game?
With only four penalties called in all of Game 1, including the aforementioned interference on Wilson, with a cross-check by David Perron called on the same play, it’s safe to say the referees adopted a “let them play” stance.
While that certainly played a part in how wide open the game was played, it’s probably safe to say that won’t be the case in Game 2. Especially not with bad blood in the water and so much criticism for missed calls in the press. Look for more policing from the officials in Game 2 to maintain control and make sure things don’t get out of hand.
3. Will Ovechkin Come to Play?
Sure, he registered an assist in Game 1, but Washington superstar Alexander Ovechkin was largely absent from the game, even in its waning moments when the Caps dominated play. If they are going to even the series in Game 2, the Capitals need their captain to step up once again and lead his team to victory.
Vegas has the advantage of home ice for one more game, which means coach Gerard Gallant can continue to put top defensive pair Brayden McNabb and Nate Schmidt on the ice whenever he spots “the Great Eight.” And while they clearly stifled Ovechkin in game one, it’s typically a matter of time before one of hockey’s all-time greatest scorers gets rolling. If Ovechkin is able to break loose in Game 2, it will greatly improve Washington’s chances of going home tied 1-1.
4. Will the Defense Tighten Up?
Speaking of defense, after 10 goals in Game 1 (one empty-netter), we’re willing to bet both teams will aim to shore things up on the defensive end. There were some lucky bounces on both ends, and Vegas goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury essentially put one in on himself, but there were times when both clubs looked somewhat rusty. Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby even admitted as much himself, citing the long layover both teams experienced before the series.
With just 48 hours between Games 1 and 2, look for less sloppy play in the second instalment in the series.
5. Who Will Step Up?
We already mentioned a possible candidate in Ovechkin, but how about either goaltender taking over? Both Fleury and Holtby are known for riding hot streaks, even in this playoffs, and either one could decide to seal things off in Game 2 after looking shaky in Game 1.
Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie certainly had their moments in the first game, while Vegas’ top line of William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault, and Reilly Smith were buzzing at times. But it wasn’t the stars who shone brightest, but the 4th line for the Golden Knights who had the biggest impact on the game.
So perhaps another unlikely candidate like Tomas Nosek or Reaves could emerge. How about Ryan Carpenter for Vegas? And no one on either team could use a big game more than Washington’s Devante Smith-Pelly after failing to clear the zone on the winning goal.
It’s always interesting to watch what heroes emerge as a series ebbs and flows, and we’ll be curious who steps up come Wednesday night.