June 4 vs. Vegas Golden Knights at Capital One Arena
Time: 8:00 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7 and FAN 106.7
Game 4, Stanley Cup Final series. Capitals lead, 2-1.
Two nights after authoring the first home ice win in the Stanley Cup Final in franchise history, the Capitals will aim for an encore performance. They will host the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 4 of the Cup Final on Monday night at Capital One Arena, an opportunity for Washington to take command of the series.
Four games into each of their first three series in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Capitals were all even at 2-2 with each of their respective foes. They had opportunities to go up 3-1 in each of their last two series, but were unable to do so.
Washington wrested home ice advantage away from the Golden Knights with its 3-2 victory in Game 2 in Vegas, one of only two home-ice losses for the Knights this spring, and the only one achieved in regulation. The Caps need Game 4 to maintain that home ice advantage, and to ensure that they won’t need to win another game at T-Mobile Arena, where opponents have encountered tough sledding against the Golden Knights since the outset of the regular season.
“It’s very important that we stay focused,” says Caps defenseman Matt Niskanen. “We’re excited with the way the game went [Saturday] and how we played, but you’ve got to do it all over again. It’s a huge opportunity for us [Monday], and I think we’ll be ready to go. I think we’ve learned enough hard lessons in the past not to let opportunities slip away, so it’s going to be really important for us to be mentally focused.”
Washington came home from Vegas with a 1-1 split, then took its first lead in the series with its first ever home ice win in a Cup Final game, a 3-1 victory over the Golden Knights on Saturday in the District.
The Caps got goals from Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov in the second to take a 2-0 lead in Saturday’s Game 3, and after the Knights halved that advantage early in the third, the Caps responded well. Jay Beagle made a strong play on the forecheck to set up a Devante Smith-Pelly goal, restoring the Caps’ two-goal cushion. The Knights didn’t threaten thereafter. A few of the Caps mentioned after Saturday’s win that they believe they played better in their Game 2 victory, and that may be true, but they were still effective at thwarting the Golden Knights’ attack and frustrating Vegas’ top talent in Saturday’s contest.
“It’s important to recognize moments where you can pressure,” says Niskanen, “and we don’t want to get away from that, where you can send two guys and try to force teams into mistakes. But at times when they have full control and they’re going to build some speed, holding either the red line or the blueline with layers of support, you can force teams into turnovers and we’ve done a good job of that.”
After surrendering six goals – one of them a late empty-netter – in the series opener a week ago, the Caps have effectively battened down the hatches in the two games since. Washington has limited the Knights to a total of three goals in the two games since, and two of those came at even strength. The Caps have been effective at shutting down and frustrating Vegas’ top forward line of Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson and Reilly Smith.
“I don’t know about shutting them down,” says Caps defenseman John Carlson. “I think we try to do a job on everyone. They’re real deep and all four of their lines get a lot of play, more than most other teams I would say. They’ve had their moments, and we know they’re going to get chances and goals, but the more we can keep them off the scoreboard and frustrate them as much as possible, that’s obviously our goal going into every game.”
Vegas has scored nine goals in the series, and four of them have come from its fourth line. Two have come from its top line, and its two power-play goals have come from defensemen. That leaves just one goal in three games from its middle six forwards, which has the Knights’ brass contemplating some changes for Game 4.
“We’re considering some changes,” says Knights coach Gerard Gallant. “We’re not sure we’re going to do any yet, but we’ll consider it today and decide tomorrow.”
The Golden Knights’ top line attempted a dozen shots in Game 3, getting four of them on net, all off the stick of Marchessault. Karlsson, who finished third in the NHL with 43 goals during the regular season, had no attempts in more than 20 minutes of ice time.
“They did their job last night,” says Gallant. “They didn’t score, but they did their job. They played hard, they played well, they got some good opportunities. The [fourth] line again chipped in with a goal for us and worked the puck down low behind the net, so we need more from our other players.”
Saturday’s loss marked the first time in the 2018 playoffs that Vegas has suffered consecutive setbacks, a development that is likely to fire up the resilient Golden Knights for Monday’s contest.
“The Winnipeg series, a lot of people counted us out after that first game and we battled back," says Gallant. "Today is a different series and we’re playing a different team. Washington is working hard, they’re competing real hard and they’re playing great hockey right now, so we’ve got to step up our game. In the three games we haven’t been good enough. If we don’t step up our game, the same result is going to happen [Monday] night. So we’ll see what we’re made of.”
As for the Caps, they’re looking to step up their own game. Washington’s pattern in these playoffs has been to feel its way through the early part of the series, then put the hammer down. The Caps are now 8-7 in Games 1-4 in the 2018 playoffs, and they’re 6-1 in Games 5-7.
“I look at our game [Saturday] night,” says Caps coach Barry Trotz, “and I liked a lot of the things we did in the first and third [periods], and I didn’t like our second, and we got two goals. A lot of them were off [Vegas’] missed opportunities. I still think we gave them too many opportunities in the second period. We didn’t manage the puck the way we can; we’ve got to be way better than we were in that period.
“We still feel we have another level in our game. As I said [Saturday], I think we’re starting to find our game as this series goes on, and that has happened every series where we find our game and it gets better and better, so I’m hoping that will be the case. I know we’re going to have a desperate team [Monday] hopefully from our side, as well as you know it will be from their side. And we’ve got an opportunity at home here to get another game. Our crowd will be as good as they were [Saturday] night. I hope they’re even better [Monday]. Let’s see if we can be better as a team; we can be a lot better as a team.”