Alex Ovechkin was not going to be denied.
As Brayden McNabb tried to keep him away from the front of the net, the Capitals star dove over the kneeling Vegas defenseman — knocking in a rebound with his backhand.
After scoring Saturday night’s first goal in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final, Ovechkin celebrated with the same unbridled joy that has become a symbol of this unprecedented playoff run for the Capitals and the team’s fans.
“He’s so emotional about playing for the Cup,” coach Barry Trotz said before the game. “It’s something he always wanted to do. … He has a lot of pride. He wants to deliver a Cup to the city.”
The 3-1 win over the Vegas Golden Knights at Capital One Arena gives Washington a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series — halfway to the championship that has eluded the Russian superstar his entire 13-year NHL career.
The series continues with Game 4 Monday night at Capital One Arena before action shifts back to Las Vegas for what could now be a deciding Game 5.
Ovechkin had a dominant game — finishing with five shots on goals, two hits and two blocked shots.
But, as Trotz pointed out pre-game, it takes more than one player to advance in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Goaltender Braden Holtby had 21 saves, Evgeny Kuznetsov scored a goal and Washington’s defense swarmed the Golden Knights.
Ovechkin, though, led the charge.
Just 70 seconds into the game, Kuznetsov, who returned to the lineup after leaving Game 2 with an upper-body injury, found the Capitals captain on a 2-on-1, but Vegas goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury made the save.
Ovechkin was aggressive throughout the first, recording three shots on goal. By the end of the period, however, Washington had nothing to show for it. Chandler Stephenson had a goal wiped away five minutes into the first after winger Devante Smith-Pelly was called for goaltender interference.
But the Capitals got on the board 1:10 into the second — off Ovechkin’s diving goal. Moments before, bodies crashed the net, creating enough havoc for Fleury to lose track of the puck.
“I thought that was a little bit of poetic justice if you will for all the tough times,” Trotz said. “I love the goal. We kept it alive, maybe four, five, six chances to keep it alive and it finally ended up in the back of the net.”
Later on, Kuznetsov sniped a shot past Fleury on an odd-man rush. The chance was created when Jay Beagle got ahold of a loose puck for a breakout and dished it to a streaking Kuznetsov.
When Kuznetsov scored, Ovechkin lifted his arms above his head and screamed from the bench. An enthusiastic Lars Eller grabbed him from behind.
“He’s on another level,” defenseman John Carlson said of Ovechkin. “Everyone kind of reacts to stuff differently and he’s always been that brash celebrator. It’s great to see and he’s as engaged as anyone could ever be, I think. It shows in his game and it shows in the effect that it has on the rest of us.”
Washington’s lone slip-up came in the third when Holtby misdirected a pass, right to Vegas forward Tomas Nosek, who scored easily.
But the Capitals didn’t allow another goal. Smith-Pelly made up for two earlier penalties, scoring on a shot from the slot to give the Capitals breathing room with 6:07 left.
The score was, again, set up from Beagle — stealing the puck from defenseman Shea Theodore before delivering a back-handed pass to Smith-Pelly.
And like before, Ovechkin celebrated.
“It’s just automatic,” Ovechkin said about his emotions. “You just get excited. If Holts makes a huge save you can just see the whole bench jump and get excited. It’s huge moments for us. You just want to give emotion to your teammates and to yourself as well.”