May 30 vs. Vegas Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena
Time: 8:00 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7 and FAN 106.7
Game 2, Stanley Cup Final series. Vegas leads, 1-0.
Two nights after Vegas came away with a 6-4 win over Washington in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final series, the two teams will clash again on Wednesday night at T-Mobile Arena here in Sin City. Neither team was overly happy with its opening night performance – the word “sloppy” was thrown around liberally from players and coaches from both sides in the wake of Monday’s series opener.
Ice conditions were less than optimal in Monday’s opener, and both teams were coming off of unusually long layoffs – eight days for Vegas and five for Washington – and both of those factors played a part in Monday’s series opener.
“I think so, and the feeling out process, too,” says Washington winger Brett Connolly. “The ice wasn’t great, some pucks were sloppy a little bit. We’ve just got to find a way to get a little bit better out of each guy and we’ll be fine.”
“I don’t think we executed our game plan 100 percent,” says Caps right wing Tom Wilson. “We didn’t play the game that we wanted to, and we were still in it. We did a good job of clawing back into it and making sure that we stuck around. We had a good spot in the third; we were up a goal on the road in a tough building. Obviously hockey is a game of ups and downs, and we’re focused on the next one.”
Even in victory, Vegas wasn’t at all thrilled with its game, particularly in its own end of the ice.
“We were a little bit loose last night in the [defensive] zone and we’ve got to be a little bit tighter,” says Vegas coach Gerard Gallant. “That comes from having some time off and you can work on stuff in practice, but you want to make sure guys aren’t getting hurt in practice, so you do as much as you can.
“It wasn’t brutal [Monday] night, but our [defensive] zone was a lot better in the Winnipeg series than it was [Monday] night. And I’m not worried about it, I know we’ll be a lot better [Wednesday] night.”
The Golden Knights gave up only 27 goals in their first 15 games in the 2018 playoffs, so being dented for four five-on-five goals in a game is an unusual occurrence for them.
“I think at times we got a little sloppy in our own end,” says Vegas defenseman Deryk Engelland, “that and we turned pucks over into their transition game – which we knew was really good – and that feeds them. So just a few little things. For the most part, we were decent. So I think [defensive] zone for sure, and then a few turnovers, definitely.”
There were four lead changes in Game 1, the most ever in a single game in the Stanley Cup Final. The game was tied after the first, it was tied after the second, and the outcome was in doubt until fewer than five seconds remained in regulation. Either team could have prevailed, but the Golden Knights did so. This situation is nothing new for Washington; the Caps lost their series opener in each of the first two rounds of the 2018 playoffs, and they’ve trailed at some point in all four rounds now.
The Caps have been adept at responding to adverse situations and bouncing back all season and into the playoffs, and losing the opener has done nothing to dim their spirits. Washington’s game wasn’t as crisp as most of its previous playoff games this spring. Passes weren’t on the mark, the Caps didn’t play as fast as they typically do, and Vegas had its way with the Caps down low in the Washington zone.
“For us, as a group, we learned a lot of lessons [Monday] night,” says Caps coach Barry Trotz. “We’re not as familiar with Vegas in terms of the information we give the players and all that. They didn’t do anything different, but any opponent you play very seldomly, you have to get a feel for it.
“They’re a good checking team, they work extremely hard and they got a lot of their goals down around our net. And it wasn’t on primary plays, it was on secondary and third plays where we have to be a little more diligent and stay on pucks and take care of business. I didn’t think we had enough substance in our game. I would say we’ve got a lot more.
“If we make the adjustments that we need and everybody gets back to a little more of our foundation, then I think we will be back in the series quickly.”
Both sides noted the need to be sharper in neutral ice, so as not to feed into the opposition’s transition game, and the Caps know they’ve got to be more efficient at getting pucks out of their own end cleanly. Breakouts have been their bread and butter for a few months now, fueling their overall game when they’re playing their best hockey. The Caps know they’ve got to be better in that regard on Wednesday to give themselves the best chance of evening up the series before the scene shifts to the District this weekend.
“I think we’ve got to be a little bit sharper when we move the puck,” says caps center Lars Eller. “We’ve got to move the puck quicker; they’re good to put pressure, especially in the neutral zone. They turn the pucks [over] quick when the pass is not right on the tape – they get it back right away and they go on the attack.
“We’ve just got to be a little bit sharper on the execution. The key a lot of times is the four guys who don’t have the puck, they have to get available right away and they’ve got to show that they want the puck, because the guy that has the puck, he is getting swarmed by one, two or three guys. He has got to have options, and we didn’t always have options [Monday] night. So I think that will one of the keys.”
Another key for the Caps will be a stronger start. Washington expected the Golden Knights would be buzzing feverishly in the first, and it weathered that storm for the most part, falling down a goal before the midpoint of the first period on Colin Miller’s power-play goal. The Caps will try to find a way to do more thriving and less surviving from the outset of Wednesday’s contest.
“They always come out hard here; that’s what they do, they’ve caught a lot of teams early,” says Eller. “But I think we found a way to respond to that every time. The game was back and forth. They had the lead, then we had it, then they had it and we had it again. Last night just goes to show that we can get a win here if we play the right way and we tighten up a little bit on the discipline, execute a little better, be a little sharper, then I like our chances.”
Washington conducted its Tuesday practice at T-Mobile Arena while the Golden Knights skated at their practice facility on the outskirts of Vegas. Despite its sloppiness and some adverse conditions and circumstances, the Caps and Golden Knights played an extremely entertaining Game 1. Both teams are now racing to reach the ceiling of their respective games, which is exciting to think about as this series moves forward.
“It’s just a matter of sticking to our system,” says Caps center Jay Beagle. “We know our system, we know what we have to do, we know the right way that we have to play, and we saw it for little bits of Game 1 but it wasn’t enough. We have to play the right way the whole time.
“It’s going to be great hockey. Even though we didn’t play our best and it seemed like we couldn’t get going, and there were bits and pieces when we got going, but it was a fun hockey game and it was fun as a player to play in it. Obviously you want to win, but this is what we play for. It’s a lot of fun, that atmosphere. I’m looking forward to Game 2.”