Game 2 of the 2018 Stanley Cup Final in Vegas will forever be known for Braden Holtby’s save on Alex Tuch late in the game that preserved the victory for Washington. While that was certainly the biggest and most memorable moment, the play of a third-line center shouldn’t be overlooked.
Lars Eller, just going about his business in a non-flashy manner, was asked to step up to fill a big hole due to injury. Not only did Eller answer the call, but he did so in a way that helped propel the Caps to victory.
Eller Starred in Game 2
During the first period of Wednesday’s game, the Caps lost top center Evgeny Kuznetsov to an upper-body injury after he was hit by Brayden McNabb of the Golden Knights. The injury kept the Russian out for the remainder of the game, meaning that Washington was left with a huge void on offense.
Head coach Barry Trotz had to switch his lines around in order to make up for the absence of Kuznetsov. He bumped Nicklas Backstrom to the top line and moved Eller to second-line duty.
Eller wasted no time producing in his new role. Late in the first, after being promoted, he took a beautiful pass from Michal Kempny and buried it in the back of the net. The scoring play was started by an Andre Burakovsky pass from his knees.
That goal by Eller gave the Caps momentum heading into the locker room, and they never trailed again in the game.
The solid play by Eller continued in the second period. He assisted on a power-play goal by Alexander Ovechkin and later on a Brooks Orpik goal as well. He finished the game with three total points, a plus-one rating, six hits, and also won 63 percent of his face-offs.
Eller clearly came to play in Game 2 and didn’t shy away from the big stage when the Capitals needed him the most. If not for Holtby’s stellar performance in net, Eller would be known as the unsung hero of Game 2 against the Golden Knights.
Not an Unfamiliar Role for Eller
Moving up to a top-six role wasn’t anything new for Eller. He spent some time on each of the top two lines during the regular season when Trotz was experimenting with lines. He also found himself in the same role as Game 2 earlier in the postseason.
Eller was forced to center the second line when Backstrom was injured blocking a shot in Game 5 of the second round against Pittsburgh. Backstrom wound up missing Game 6 with the Penguins and the first three games of the Tampa Bay series.
During the four games that Backstrom missed Eller put up fantastic numbers, scoring two goals and racking up three assists. His performance gave Trotz and the rest of the coaching staff the confidence to trust him in big situations.
Washington went 3-1 with Eller leading the second line and didn’t seem to miss a beat without Backstrom.
Overall in the playoffs, Eller has scored six goals with 11 helpers and a plus-six rating. The solid postseason numbers for Eller shouldn’t be a surprise. During the regular season, he set career highs in goals (18) and points (38).
It’s been a great postseason for Eller thus far. It’s unclear exactly what role he’ll play in the Stanley Cup Final moving forward, but Eller will be counted on to continue providing important offense.
Eller could find himself back on the third line for Saturday’s Game 3. Kuznetsov returned to practice, but there’s no official word on his status for the home matchup with Vegas Saturday night. Regardless of which line Eller ends up on, he’ll once again be a key for the Caps.
Barry is the site expert at Victory Bell Rings, covering Penn State football, hockey and basketball. He’s also written about the NHL for RotoWire, Bleacher Report and FanSided. An avid hockey fan, he’s been a Washington Capitals supporter for most of his life.