- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 30, 2018

LAS VEGAS — After Monday’s loss, Barry Trotz said that he knew his team had another level. The Washington Capitals found it Wednesday, just in time to even the series before it shifted east.

The Capitals downed the Vegas Golden Knights 3-2 in Game 2 at T-Mobile Arena, earning the franchise’s first-ever win in a Stanley Cup Final.

Lars Eller scored a goal and made two primary assists to lead Washington. Alex Ovechkin and Brooks Orpik also scored and Andre Burakovsky had two assists.

Braden Holtby made 36 saves, including a win-preserving dive in the final two minutes that lit up social media.

After allowing the first goal of the game, Washington surged back and showed improvement in the neutral and defensive zones, problems that plagued the team in Game 1.

“I think we were a little more on our toes tonight,” Eller said. “Especially in Game 1, they were the ones transitioning on us, especially in the neutral zone and I think tonight we reversed it 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.”

The Capitals played on their heels for much of the opening 10 minutes, missing a few passes and sometimes moving backward with the puck in their D zone. It culminated with Vegas scoring eight minutes into the game. Dmitry Orlov reached to catch a puck, but James Neal used his stick to deflect it away from the defenseman, controlled it and took a wrist shot from the left circle that flew by Holtby into the top-right corner of the net.

Vegas entered Wednesday 11-1 in the playoffs when scoring the first goal, but did not hold on in this one.

Evgeny Kuznetsov left the game late in the first after taking a hard check into the boards from Brayden McNabb and did not return. McNabb was not penalized for the hit. Moments later, T.J. Oshie and Deryk Engelland earned matching roughing minors for their roles in a big scrum near Marc-Andre Fleury’s net.

While it wasn’t a power play opportunity, the Capitals struck on the ensuing 4-on-4 when Eller won a faceoff in the offensive zone. Burakovsky collected the puck and passed it left to Michal Kempny, who sent it back right to Eller for a bang-bang goal near the circle.

The angle was important for Eller to score on an aggressive goalie like Fleury.

“It goes for any goalie. You make the move lateral and make it hard on them, you’re setting yourself up for a goal,” Eller said. “But especially Fleury, yeah.”

The Capitals grabbed the lead after Vegas forward Alex Tuch was called for cross-checking. Eller took Kuznetsov’s place on the power-play unit, and from Fleury’s left side, he passed across the crease to Ovechkin, waiting on the other side for a one-timer.

It was Ovechkin’s 13th goal of the postseason and his 11th against Fleury in 16 playoff meetings.

From the most likely source of Washington offense to the least, Orpik got in on the action and scored four minutes later. Eller sent him an easy pass at the top of the right circle and his shot careened off a Vegas player in traffic, bounced past Fleury and glanced off the inside of the pipe.

Orpik had not scored a goal in regular season or playoffs since Feb. 26, 2016. He became the 18th different Capital to score this postseason, three shy of the NHL record.

Orpik was not available to reporters after the game because he was getting work done on the trainer’s table, but his teammates spoke for him.

“Brooksy doesn’t score a lot of goals, but that was a huge one,” Eller smiled. “To have success in the playoffs, you need to have every single guy chipping in. Sometimes they need to chip in in ways they don’t always do. Brooksy came up huge for us. It was nice to see him join the rush. It was great that he was one of the difference-makers.”

Vegas broke the Capitals‘ scoring streak before the period was up. Only 19 seconds after Oshie took his second penalty of the game, the Golden Knights won a faceoff and shuttled the puck to Shea Theodore in the high slot for a wrister goal.

After Tom Wilson and Eller took penalties early in the third, Holtby and his teammates killed off a 5-on-3 Vegas advantage that lasted 1:09. They clung to their lead while the Golden Knights put a flurry of shots on goal.

Jay Beagle relished the chance to defend the Capitals‘ net with his team down two men.

“You don’t like to have 5-on-3 obviously, but that’s a big part of my game and something I take pride in,” Beagle said. “It’s big to get that kill. Brooksy, unreal game, and Nisky made great reads and great calls in the 5-on-3. It’s a challenge and I always loved it.”

“Two things galvanized us,” Trotz said. “The hit on Kuzy, which we felt was high and the player didn’t return. That was one thing that galvanized us. And the other thing was that 5-on-3. That really pulled our bench together and obviously an all-in mentality. All year we’ve been very resilient and we were today.”

But Vegas’ chances in the final minutes were more limited. One final jolt through the crowd came with two minutes to play, when Golden Knights fans thought Tuch got one past Holtby. But Holtby stretched out to trap the puck in the crease with his stick.

Holtby called it a “strange” play because of the bounce the puck initially took off the boards.

“When the bounce is weird in that time of the game, Beags makes a great play to pass it over and I was just trying to get something there, trying to seal where I thought someone would shoot that,” Holtby said. “Luckily, it hit me.”

The series now will shift to Washington, where Capital One Arena will host Game 3 Saturday and Game 4 Monday.

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