WASHINGTON — There was a smile on Alex Tuch’s face as he stepped onto the ice at Capital One Arena Friday.
He was joking with teammates and coaches and everything appeared good in his world. He even got a hug from Marc-Andre Fleury, though Fleury said it was not a psychological ploy on his part.
But the 22-year-old rookie right wing knows there’s redemption to be sought Saturday when his Golden Knights face the Washington Capitals in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final.
Tuch’s chance to tie Game 2 at T-Mobile Arena was denied by Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby with two minutes to play and the Capitals clinging to a 3-2 lead.
Here in Washington, they already refer to the play as “The Save.” And with the best-of-seven series tied 1-1, Tuch has plenty of motivation to tip things in his team’s favor.
In addition to the missed goal, Tuch took an offensive zone penalty in the second period, and the Capitals got a power-play goal from Alex Ovechkin with Tuch in the box. He also inadvertently got a piece of Brooks Orpik’s shot — the game-winner — that put the Capitals ahead 3-1.
“I think I’m playing pretty well so far,” Tuch said Friday after practice. “My first game was a little bit of nerves and jitters, but the second game I was skating pretty hard and had a couple of unlucky bounces, and one I should have buried. But it was a great save by Holtby. Just have to kind of forget about that and keep moving forward.”
That was exactly the message Tuch got from his coach and his teammates.
“It was a great save, but you don’t think about it now,” James Neal said. “We told him not to worry about it and keep playing the way he’s been playing. He’s done a great job for us all season.”
Fleury said: “Yeah, just don’t worry about it. I think it’s a couple tough bounces for him. It happens, right? It’s hockey, you never know how it’s going to turn out.
“I think it was important for him to put it behind him quickly so he can play his regular game come (Saturday).”
Gallant said: “What did he do wrong Wednesday? No, he didn’t let the team down. He’s a 22-year-old kid I really like who had an outstanding playoffs. Not everybody has great games, but I thought he was fine besides the penalty. And penalties happen.”
Tuch appreciated the support.
“I was working hard and they saw that,” he said. “A couple of unlucky bounces, a play didn’t go my way, and they’ve been supportive all playoff long. We’re in this together, and they’ve been great to me.”
Tuch has been robbed of goals before. A memorable one came on Dec. 5 when Anaheim’s John Gibson stretched across the crease and got a glove on Tuch’s close-in shot that was ticketed for the right corner.
Tuch got some payback that night as he scored the game-winner in the Knights’ 4-3 shootout victory. Perhaps he will gain some redemption against Holtby before the final is over.
“We were playing hard, and they just played really sound defense and Holtby had a good game; that’s what it comes down to,” Tuch said. “We still had a lot of shots on net, especially in the third period. It was a pretty strong third period from our team as a whole, but we just have to bear down and bury some opportunities.”