With about three minutes remaining in the second period Saturday, Golden Knights leading scorer Jonathan Marchessault was left alone in the high slot and had plenty of time to fire a shot.
He missed the net.
About a minute and a half later, Alex Tuch cut inside from the left wing to create one of the Knights’ few scoring opportunities.
His shot sailed high and wide.
And that sequence pretty much sums up Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final for the Knights.
The Knights struggled to break down Washington’s stingy defense for the second straight game and hardly tested Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby in a 3-1 loss at Capital One Arena.
“I thought once we make a play, we’re rushing the next one or vice versa,” Knights forward James Neal said. “I think we’ve got to have some poise, settle down a little bit and get back to what’s made us successful, and we just haven’t got there. That’s them doing a good job for sure, but at the same time, we’ve got to get better each game, and we just haven’t.”
The Knights lost consecutive games for the first time in the playoffs and trail 2-1 in the best-of-seven series with Game 4 scheduled for 5 p.m. Monday.
When the Stanley Cup Final has been tied 1-1, the winner of Game 3 has gone on to win the Cup 77.8 percent (21 of 27 series) of the time since the best-of-seven format was implemented in 1939.
“It’s a lot of things,” forward Ryan Reaves said. “We’ve got to get more pucks on net. We’ve got to get away from the cute game and get back to the grind.”
The Knights were limited to 22 shots on goal, their second-lowest total in 18 playoff games. They missed the net on 14 additional attempts, which included Marchessault hitting the post on two occasions.
Washington also blocked 26 shots, including a team-high four by defenseman John Carlson.
“We were forcing pucks, we were forcing plays,” Tuch said. “As soon as we knew they were blocking shots, we got too cute, turned the puck over and had odd-man rushes against.”
Washington entered Saturday with a 4-5 home record in the postseason, but slowed the Knights in the first Stanley Cup Final game in the nation’s capital since June 16, 1998.
Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov, who missed most of Game 2 with an upper-body injury and was listed as a game-time decision for Game 3, finished with a goal and an assist.
Alex Ovechkin and Devante Smith-Pelly also scored for Washington.
“It’s just not enough speed for us through the neutral zone,” Neal said. “We’re just kind of waiting around. It’s tough. It’s tight out there, but once we get it, we’ve got to have some poise with the puck. We’ve got to make the right plays. We’ve got to make it easier on each other. “
The Knights trailed 2-0 entering the third period but caught a break when Holtby tried to make a pass up the middle. The puck hit Pierre-Edouard Bellemare’s stick and went to Tomas Nosek, who had an open net for his third goal of the series at the 3:29 mark.
But the Capitals’ fourth line responded with a goal when Jay Beagle forced a turnover by defenseman Shea Theodore and Smith-Pelly cashed in with 6:07 remaining.
“We’ve been in a lot of moments in the last 10 years, and I’ve been here — this is my fourth year — we’ve had a lot of moments, not as many good ones as we’d like,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. “Everybody recognizes that if you do the right things and you keep sort of pounding the rock, there’s a lot of pride in our dressing room, there’s a lot of pride in this D.C. area.”
After producing 15 goals in Vegas, the most combined goals in the first two games of the Stanley Cup Final since 1982, the teams went scoreless in the first period Saturday. It was the first time the Knights were held without a first-period goal since Game 6 at San Jose on May 6.
Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury (23 saves) denied Ovechkin on a 2-on-1 about a minute into the game, and the Capitals had a goal wiped out at 5:04 of the period when Smith-Pelly was penalized for goaltender interference.
Washington broke through 1:10 into the second period when Ovechkin backhanded in a rebound after Fleury scrambled to make two saves moments earlier.
Kuznetsov put the Capitals ahead 2-0 with 7:10 remaining when Theodore broke his stick and lost control of the puck in the offensive zone, leading to an odd-man rush for Washington. The leading scorer in the postseason with 27 points beat Fleury to the stick side for his 12th goal of the playoffs.
“They’re a great team over there, and now the pressure is on them to keep going,” Knights forward David Perron said. “Some of the mistakes we made tonight we gave them. I don’t know if it’s them or not. I think it’s coming from us.”
1. Dodging disaster. Washington defenseman Michal Kempny stepped on a puck and took a nasty spill during warmups. He went straight to the locker room for repairs but was in the lineup and logged 17:23 of ice time on 24 shifts.
2. Elite club. Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury passed Billy Smith and Andy Moog and moved into a tie with Curtis Joseph for sixth all time in career playoff games by a goalie (133).
3. Music boycott. All season, the Capitals played “Whatever It Takes” by Imagine Dragons before every home game. But after the Las Vegas-based band performed the song prior to Game 2, the folks at Capital One Arena staged a mini boycott and didn’t play it Saturday.
David Schoen Review-Journal