If Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final was largely a case of Washington giveth and Vegas taketh away, Game 2 was a matter of the Capitals not giving anything more away.
The Capitals came into Wednesday’s game with 176 playoff giveaways, second-most among the teams that have played 10 or more postseason games.
After the first two periods in Game 2, they had only added to their giveaway total by one.
They also had the lead, which was hardly a coincidence.
The visitors made it stand up during a taut third period, their 3-2 victory at T-Mobile Arena in another spellbinding battle for Lord Stanley’s Cup leveling the best-of-seven series at a game apiece and dramatically changing its complexion.
After the Knights’ 6-4 victory in a rollicking, free-wheeling Game 1 on Monday, both coaches spoke of tidying up their stick-handling and passing in the defensive end and neutral zone. Protecting the puck against the Knights’ tenacious forecheck was still on Washington coach Barry Trotz’s mind when he addressed the media a couple of hours before the puck was dropped.
Caps exchange, execute
“I think just good exchanges, going back and make sure that we’ve got good exchanges, execute the things that we need to do,” Trotz said of the importance of keeping pucks on the blades of sticks and doing it with more urgency. “Obviously the way they forecheck, the way we forecheck, I think it can make it difficult on both teams to get out of their end.
“You see tendencies — the more you play them, the more you can make your adjustments. I’m sure they’ve made some on their side. We’ve made some on ours. We’ll see if they work or not. If they work, then we’ll continue to tweak it. If they don’t, we’ll go back to the drawing board.”
After giving the puck away seven times Monday leading to a plethora of Knights scoring chances, Washington finished with four that were hardly noticeable Wednesday. The Knights, conversely, were guilty of 12 giveaways.
“I think we were a little more on our toes tonight,” said the Capitals’ Lars Eller, who whiffed on a wide-open net in the final minute that would have tied Game 1 before redeeming himself in large degree by scoring a late first-period goal that tied Game 2 at 1.
“In Game 1, they were the ones transitioning on us, especially in the neutral zone. I think tonight we reversed that a little bit. We were a lot more tight in the neutral zone and made them turn over some pucks and now we were getting the odd man rushes. We analyzed Game 1, made some adjustments and executed. Everybody executed real well tonight.”
The Caps did make two glaring mistakes that led to Knights goals, but neither was considered a giveaway in the traditional sense.
Hockey gods smiling
Early in the first period, defenseman Dmitry Orlov tried to swat a puck out of the air inside his own blue line as if he were trying to catch a butterfly without a net. The puck wound up on the stick of James Neal, who beat Braden Holtby with a perfect shot to the top corner of the top shelf for a 1-0 Vegas lead.
Late in the second period, T.J. Oshie was whistled for a retaliatory interference call on the Knights’ Colin Miller. That led to a power play goal by Shea Theodore, trimming what was looking like a comfortable 3-1 Washington lead into a tense one-goal cushion.
After the Knights failed to capitalize on a 5-on-3 opportunity early in the third period, Washington commenced taking care of the puck. The Capitals also put up a gauntlet around Holtby that rivaled the one Clint Eastwood and Sondra Locke faced in the streets of downtown Phoenix in the old movie of the same name.
The Knights went more than 10 minutes without a shot on goal before Holtby made a save that, should Washington protect home ice advantage it has wrested from the Knights, will be remembered in D.C. with the same fondness and incredulity as Dwight Clark’s end zone catch against the Cowboys is recalled by Bay Area football fans.
“To me, it was the hockey gods — they evened it up from the last game,” said Trotz, referring to Holtby’s sprawling stick save with the right side of his net seemingly unprotected.
The clutch stop prevented the Knights’ Alex Tuch from sending the game into overtime and blowing the roof off T-Mobile Arena into the vicinity of the Raiders’ stadium construction site down the street.
That’s what happens when you don’t give the puck away and control the neutral zone. The hockey gods intercede, and you go back to Washington with the series tied and hockey fans clamoring for more.