Twenty Years After – Twenty years to the night that Joé Juneau’s overtime goal sent the Caps to their first Stanley Cup Final berth in franchise history, the 2017-18 Capitals have done that ’97-98 bunch three wins better.
The Caps rolled to a 6-2 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights on Monday at Capital One Arena, winning Game 4 to take a commanding 3-1 lead in the Stanley Cup Final. With one more victory, the Caps would win the first Stanley Cup title in their 44 years in the NHL.
Twenty years ago, the Caps were swept aside in four straight games, stuck on a dozen wins as the Detroit Red Wings won a second straight Cup championship. That 1997-98 squad stood alone as the best team in Washington’s franchise history – in terms of results, anyway – until this spring.
I Drub Thee Knights – Coming into the Stanley Cup Final series, the Knights owned a 12-3 playoff record and they had not suffered consecutive setbacks at any point in the playoffs. Prior to Monday’s drubbing at the hands of the Capitals, Vegas had suffered only one playoff loss by more than two goals this spring, a 4-0 whitewashing at the hands of the San Jose Sharks on May 2.
With Monday’s loss, the Knights have been saddled with more adversity than they’ve seen in quite some time. Vegas’ current three-game slide is its first Feb. 26-March 2 (0-2-1), and its first run of three straight losses in regulation since Nov. 28-Dec. 1.
Including the postseason, Vegas has now suffered a quartet of three-game losing streaks during its 101-game NHL existence. The Golden Knights have yet to lose four straight games at any point in their brief history.
Home Cooking = Cooking At Home – For much of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Caps’ typical home ice dominance – forged over the last decade or so – was not apparent, at least not in the results. Washington dropped its first two home games of the ’18 playoffs, falling in overtime both times.
Ultimately, that enabled them to make history. When they won the next four straight games to take out Columbus, the Caps became the first team in NHL history to lose the first two games of a best-of-seven playoff series at home and in overtime, and still go on to win the series. Three of the Caps’ four wins in the first round came on the road.
When Washington took out the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round, it claimed two of its four wins on the road. The Caps earned three of their four wins in the Eastern Conference Final series against the Lightning on the road, in Tampa.
But the one home ice victory the Caps did record against the Lightning was a 3-0 shutout in Game 6, a positively critical win as Washington was facing elimination that night.
Beginning with that May 21 win over the Lightning, the Caps have now won three straight home playoff games, doing so for the first time since they won three straight in the District in the first round of the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs against the New York Islanders.
In the wake of Monday’s 6-2 victory over the Golden Knights in Game 4 of the SCF series, the Caps have now outscored the opposition by a combined 12-3 in winning three straight home playoff games.
Scoring Spread – Coming into Monday’s Game 4, Vegas was desperate for secondary scoring. They made a few lineup adjustments, even installing Tomas Tatar into the lineup for just the seventh time in the Golden Knights’ 19 postseason games. While with Detroit, Tatar scored four goals in two games against the Caps in 2017-18.
In order to install Tatar into the lineup, the Knights opted to scratch David Perron, the team’s regular season leader in assists with 50, and its third leading scorer with 66 points. Alas, the gambit paid no dividends for the Golden Knights. Tatar played 12:37 and mustered a single shot on net.
The two Vegas goals in Monday’s loss came from James Neal and Reilly Smith; both were 20-goal scorers during the regular season, so the Golden Knights are still seeking that elusive secondary scoring.
As for the Capitals, they got three power play goals, goals from a couple of defensemen, and one member of each of their four forward lines found the back of the net. Secondary scoring hasn’t been an issue for Washington; 15 of the 18 Caps skaters have earned at least a point in the final, and 11 different players have found the back of the net in the four games against Vegas.
Monday’s game marked the Caps’ fourth six-goal outburst in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and they’ve had one in each of the four playoff rounds. The Caps downed Columbus 6-3 in the clinching Game 6 of the first round, handed the Pens a 6-3 setback in Game 5 of the second round and beat the Lightning 6-2 in Game 2 of the third round before drubbing the Knights 6-2 on Monday.
Since scoring six goals – one of them an empty-netter – in Game 1, the Caps have limited Vegas to a combined total of five goals in the three games since.
Leading Men – The Caps and Golden Knights combined for four lead changes in a wild and woolly Game 1 on May 28, the most ever in a Stanley Cup Final contest. But over the next three games, the two sides have combined for just one lead change, and that happened when Washington overcame an early Vegas goal in Game 2.
The Golden Knights have led for a grand total of 9 minutes and 29 seconds of the last three games, all of it in the first period of Game 2. They’ve now played 162 minutes and 33 seconds straight without owning an advantage on the scoreboard at any point.
Over the entirety of the 240 minutes of hockey played by the two teams in this series to date, Washington has enjoyed 103:52 worth of lead time compared to just 32:19 for Vegas.
Middle Men – Washington has dominated Vegas in the middle of the ice in this SCF series. Caps pivots have combined for 18 points (three goals, 15 assists), or three times the production of their Vegas counterparts (one goal, five assists).
Evgeny Kuznetsov had four assists and Nicklas Backstrom had three helpers in the Caps’ Monday night rout of Vegas. With those seven points, those two Caps centers combined for more scoring in Game 4 than Vegas has received from all four of its pivots combined in the four games (six points). Caps fourth-line center Jay Beagle has two points (both assists) in the series, matching the point total of any of the Golden Knights’ middle men.
Kuznetsov’s four-assist game ties a Cup Final record achieved by 11 players previously. He is the first to do so since Colorado’s Joe Sakic had four assists in game 2 of the 1996 Cup Final against Florida.
Kuznetsov also matched the Washington franchise mark for most assists in a playoff game. Scott Stevens had a four-assist game in the 1988 playoffs, and Andrei Nikolishin matched that mark in 1998.
Kuznetsov leads all skaters with 31 points (12 goals, 19 assists) in the 2018 playoffs, and he is the fifth player since 1997 to record as many as 30 points in a single playoff year.
A Flurry On Fleury – When this series got underway, there was a false narrative floating around out there regarding Fleury’s alleged dominance over the Capitals over the years. We debunked it in this space then, and here is what we wrote:
Four games later, the Caps have debunked it themselves on the ice, denting Fleury for three or more goals in four straight games. He will enter Game 5 of this series with a 9-9 career playoff mark against the Capitals, a 3.07 GAA and an .891 save pct.
Power Surge – Washington scored three times on the power play in Monday’s win, the first time they were able to put a crooked number on the board with the extra man since they went 2-for-4 against the Lightning in Game 1 of the ECF series. Washington has now had multiple power-play goals in four of its 23 postseason games this spring.
Washington’s 29.6% power-play success rate in the 2018 playoffs is the league’s third highest mark since 1978 (minimum 60 opportunities). The New York Islanders converted at a wicked 37.8% pace in 1981, and Toronto came in at 29.7% in 1994.
Top Of The Charts – Caps defenseman John Carlson scored one of those power-play goals in the second period of Monday’s game. In doing so, Carlson matched Calle Johansson’s playoff career total of 54 points, the most ever by a Caps defenseman. Carlson has 18 goals and 36 assists in 99 games while Johansson had a dozen goals and 42 helpers in 95 career postseason contests in a Caps sweater.
By The Numbers – Carlson led the Caps with 25:07 in ice time on Monday … Alex Ovechkin led the Capitals with four shots on net and six shot attempts … Brooks Orpik led Washington with six hits and with six blocked shots … Ryan Reaves logged more PIM (12) than ice time (10:05) in Monday’s Game 4. Reaves’ Monday night ice time figure is his second highest of the 2018 playoffs. He skated 10:11 in a 3-0 win over San Jose on May 6, the first of the 10 of the Golden Knights’ 19 playoff games in which he has played.