Stanley Cup finals: Game 1

Washington Capitals vs. Vegas Golden Knights

Monday, May 28, 8 p.m. ET | TV: NBC

• In-game updates: A wild first period ended 2-2, but Vegas struck in the first five minutes of the second period to take a 3-2 lead.  (Read more)

• The Capitals have been great on the road this postseason, but the Golden Knight’s are one of the league’s best home teams. (Read more)

• Washington didn’t have a morning skate because of a 5 p.m. local start, but don’t expect any lineup changes. (Read more)

• Evgeny Kuznetsov is the postseason’s leading scorer with 24 points in 19 games. (Read more)

• Trace how the Capitals got to this point with a timeline of the season. (Read more)

In-game analysis

Vegas breaks the tie: You could feel it coming, what with Vegas dominating play in the early stages of the second period, spending all sorts of time in the offensive zone and recording the first six shots on goal. While Braden Holtby stopped the first five, there wasn’t much he could do about the sixth, which Reilly Smith buried in the back of the net after the puck bounced right to him on the doorstep.

Let’s get physical: “I would keep hitting if I was the Capitals,” NBC’s Keith Jones said during the first intermission when asked what adjustments Washington should make. “They started to hit a little bit, started to get some more offensive zone pressure. They’re going to have to continue to do that. It’s tough.” After 20 minutes, the Capitals have a 19-11 advantage in hits.

History for Washington: Those first-period goals from Brett Connolly and Nicklas Backstrom were the first the Caps have ever scored in the first period of a Stanley Cup finals game. In their brief four-game visit to this round 20 years ago, the Caps trailed after 20 minutes in every game, by scores of 2-0, 1-0, 1-0 and 1-0. They led in only one of the four games. This has absolutely nothing to do with the outcome in 2018, but then, neither does Carrot Top, one of the Vegas Golden Knights’ biggest fans.

A slow start for Washington (and yes, we know the Caps scored twice): The Caps had one shot on net for most of the first period — but then they scored two goals  in less than a minute. Still, a lack of shot volume isn’t good enough to beat a team like the Golden Knights. Vegas had three skaters, Alex Tuch, Jonathan Marchessault and William Karlsson, generate an even-strength shot attempt in the slot or crease. Washington had two, the goal scored by Brett Connolly and two chances from Alex Ovechkin.

We’re tied: With 5:19 to play in the first period, the Capitals did something that no other visiting team had done during the first period at T-Mobile Arena this postseason: score a goal. Brett Connolly redirected a bouncing wrister by Michal Kempny between his legs, off the inside of the post and into the back of the net past Marc-Andre Fleury. “That’s what you call a playoff-style goal,” NBC’s Pierre McGuire said. — SA

 

Holtby’s been busy: Vegas’s 8-2 advantage in shots on goal with 5:43 remaining in the first period is somewhat surprising given that Washington outshot Tampa Bay in six of seven games during the Eastern Conference finals and the Golden Knights were outshot in four of five games of the Western Conference finals. “The Capitals are getting some chances,” NBC’s Doc Emrick said after Brett Connolly ripped a shot over Marc-Andre Fleury, “but most of them aren’t going near the net.”

No O for the Caps: Marc-Andre Fleury has been one of the stars of these playoffs for the Golden Knights, and his numbers will be even more mind-bogglingly impressive if the Capitals don’t start generating more shots against him. Eleven minutes into the first period, shots are 7-1 in favor of the home team. — SA

Vegas announces its presence with authority: Washington cruised through the playoffs largely by dominating at even strength yet early in the first it’s the Golden Knights who are dominating during 5-on-5 play. They are outshooting the Capitals 5 to 1 at even strength with a 3 to 0 scoring chance advantage, plus have the game’s first tally on the power play. According to Moneypuck’s win probability formula, Vegas now has a 66 percent chance to win Game 1.

The Golden Knights have outscored opponents 8-4 in the playoffs at even strength when leading by one. Caps outscore opponents 6-1 while trailing by one. — Neil Greenberg

Vegas in a familiar spot: While they didn’t score in the first six minutes for the first time in four games, the Golden Knights took a 1-0 lead for the 12th time in 16 games this postseason. Vegas is 10-1 when scoring first in the playoffs. — SA

Golden Knights strike first on the power play: With 14:07 to play in the first period, Andre Burakovsky was sent to the box for boarding Cody Eakin. While the Golden Knights don’t have nearly as dangerous a power play unit as the Lightning, they’re 1-for-1 in Game 1 after Colin Miller ripped a slapshot past Braden Holtby with 7:15 gone by in the first. Erik Haula provided a screen in front of Holtby on the play. — SA

Vegas starts fast: Almost six minutes into the game, shots were 5-1 Golden Knights, including a couple of good looks for Jonathan Marchessault. As Rob Carlin mentioned during the NBC Sports Washington pregame show, Vegas entered Monday’s game 5-0 this postseason when it scored in the opening six minutes of the first period, something the Golden Knights did in the last three games of the Western Conference finals. Thanks to Braden Holtby, the Capitals are seven seconds from surviving the first six minutes unscathed. — SA

D.C. also knows how to party: While the Knights busted out all sorts of A-list celebrities before Game 1, don’t forget that the Caps also have their share of celebrity fans. It’s not too early to imagine a Game 3 introduction featuring performances from Chuck Todd, Bret Baier and Scott Van Pelt. Well. Ok. Maybe it’s actually too early for that. — Dan Steinberg

So, about that intro: The pregame show at T-Mobile Arena, one of the biggest productions in all of sports, did not disappoint. It featured Vegas’ Golden Knight mascot vanquishing five skaters representing the champions of the East, blazing arrows and light-up drums. As my sister texted, “I am living for this Disney on Ice: NHL Edition.”

Michael Buffer was also there. “Las Vegas, are you ready?” the famous ring announcer said. “For the thousands in attendance and the millions around the world who wish they could be here…let’s get ready to rummmmmmmbbbbbbbllle.” We weren’t quite yet ready to rumble, however, as Buffer still had to announce the starting lineups. — Scott Allen

A need for speed: Speed is going to be a buzzword during this series. The Golden Knights are fast, and it might appear they have the advantage over Washington in this regard, however, that doesn’t appear to be the case. Vegas has created 32 rush attempts at even strength in these playoffs through 3,707 minutes. Washington, meanwhile, has 42 rush attempts over 4,853 minutes. In other words, these two teams are almost identical in terms of rush attempts created per 60 minutes of play.

‘Tender love: Marc-Andre Fleury has a .947 save percentage with four shutouts during the Golden Knights’ run to the Stanley Cup finals. But he is beatable. A plurality of the goals scored against him (19 percent) have occurred top-shelf on his glove side with a similar share of goals down low on his blocker side. In addition, 12 of the 27 goals scored against Fleury during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs have originated in the slot or the crease, making it imperative the Capitals get up close and personal to the Golden Knights netminder, in addition to creating traffic in front.

The best of the best: In any championship run, a team’s best players must be its best players, and Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov have set the tone this entire postseason. Ovechkin leads the team in goals (12), scoring chances (80) and rebounds created off his shot attempts (11). Kuznetsov is second in goals (11), first in points (24) and second to Ovechkin in high-danger scoring chances (28), those shot attempts in the slot and the crease.

As a result, Washington’s top line of Ovechkin, Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson has been sensational during the playoffs. Those three have outscored opponents 13 to 8 at even strength with a 111 to 75 edge in scoring chances.

Top story lines

• Home sweet home: The Golden Knights had one of the NHL’s best home records during the regular season (29-10-2), and they’ve taken that to a new level during their run to the Stanley Cup finals. Vegas has lost just one playoff game at T-Mobile Arena. Meanwhile, the Capitals have occasionally struggled on their home ice, but they’re an impressive 8-2 on the road. Washington even has a road superstition where a member of the team does a hot lap before the game, and because Coach Barry Trotz took the solo skate in Tampa Bay before a victorious Game 7, he did so again in Vegas on Sunday.

The team that wins Game 1 goes on to win the series — and the Stanley Cup — 78 percent of the time, but if Washington can just return to Capital One Arena with a series split after the two games in the desert, then the team is in good shape.

As for the “Vegas Flu,” don’t expect the Capitals to get caught up in that.

“We’re going [to Vegas] to play hockey, not to pool party and play in casino,” captain Alex Ovechkin said. “We’re going there to play hockey and do our thing, and then we’re going to have all the summer and whatever we want to do, we can do it.”

• Goaltending: The Capitals have faced some impressive goaltenders to this point: Columbus’s Sergei Bobrovsky, Pittsburgh’s Matt Murray and Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy. Now Washington has to contend with Marc-Andre Fleury, who the team is well-acquainted with. Fleury ousted the Capitals a year ago when he started for the Penguins in the second round.

He’s been on a tear this postseason: .947 save percentage and a 1.68 goals-against average with four shutouts. In Washington’s net, Braden Holtby has been stout since he reclaimed the starting job two games into the playoffs, and he’s just posted back-to-back shutouts. Holtby has a .924 save percentage with a 2.04 goals-against average in 18 playoff games.

“Obviously he’s playing well, he’s always been a good goalie,” Holtby said of Fleury. “I think for us it’s more to focus on how to create those chances because they’re not giving up much, they’re pretty stingy. If you’ve watched their playoff run, they’re pretty stingy on defense and if we’re gonna have success, it’s gonna be irrelevant of a goaltender. It’s creating those chances that no goaltender can stop. That’s how we’ve had success throughout these playoffs and we’ll have to continue that.”

• Defending Ovechkin: The Golden Knights’ defensemen have a number of tough assignments in this series — Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nicklas Backstrom, bottom-six scorers, and so on — but none will be as dire as trying to slow Alex Ovechkin.

Ovechkin has 22 points this postseason (12 goals, 10 assists) and scored in three of the Capitals’ four wins against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern conference finals. His slap shot from the left faceoff circle is lethal from anywhere in the zone, and the Golden Knights, like all teams, will be focused on crowding Ovechkin to keep him from unleashing it. That will be especially important on the power play, where Ovechkin sets up in the left faceoff circle and often punishes opposing teams.

The Golden Knights penalty kill ranked 10th in the NHL during the regular season, and killed seven of the Winnipeg Jets’ eight power-play opportunities in the last two games of the Western conference finals. That unit will need to pay close mind to Ovechkin in order to have similar success, but there is also a danger in giving him too much attention.

“He’s played great hockey, but again we’re more worried about the Washington Capitals than one player,” Golden Knights Coach Gerard Gallant said after his team’s optional morning skate on Monday. “He’s going to be a key player for them, we have to pay special attention when he is on the ice, but they’ve got some really good players.”

Pregame notes

Washington’s expected lineup

Forwards
Alex Ovechkin-Evgeny Kuznetsov-Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana-Nicklas Backsrom-T.J. Oshie
Andre Burakovsky-Lars Eller-Brett Connolly
Chandler Stephenson-Jay Beagle-Devante Smith-Pelly

Defensemen
Michal Kempny-John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov-Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik-Christian Djoos

Goaltenders
Braden Holtby (starter)
Philipp Grubauer

Vegas’s expected lineup

Forwards
Jonathan Marchessault-William Karlsson-Reilly Smith
Alex Tuch-Erik Haula-James Neal
David Perron-Cody Eakin-Ryan Carpenter
Ryan Reaves-Pierre-Edouard Bellemare-Tomas Nosek

Defensemen
Brayden McNabb-Nate Schmidt
Deryk Engelland-Shea Theodore
Luca Sbisa-Colin Miller

Goaltenders
Marc-Andre Fleury (starter)
Maxime Lagace

Malcolm Subban, the Golden Knights’ usual backup goaltender, remains day-to-day with an undisclosed injury. Golden Knights Coach Gerard Gallant said he expects Subban to return at some point during the Stanley Cup series, but he did not specify when that may be.

Players to watch

Evgeny Kuznetsov: The postseason was disastrous for Kuznetsov two years ago: one goal and one assist through 12 games. He’s since shown that was a fluke and he quite enjoys the big stage. Last playoffs, he scored five goals with five assists in 12 games. In this run, he has 11 goals and 13 assists through 24 games, not just the Capitals’ leading scorer but the NHL’s top point-producer in the postseason. All but three goals have been at even strength, and especially as center Nicklas Backstrom has been nursing an injury to his right index finger, Kuznetsov has asserted himself as a top center and a top player for Washington. He and Ovechkin will likely have to contend with Vegas’s top defensive pairing of Brayden McNabb and Nate Schmidt, a former teammate.

Jonathan Marchessault: The Golden Knights have relied on fast starts all season, and the speedy Marchessault has been a major factor in their offensive outbursts at the start of games. The top-line winger had four goals in the Golden Knights’ series win over the Jets in the Western conference finals, including a score just 35 seconds into a 4-2 victory in Game 3. There will be a ton of energy in T-Mobile Arena on Monday — with the Golden Knights playing in their first Stanley Cup finals after a remarkable inaugural season — and Marchessault (as well as line mates William Karlsson and Reilly Smith) have a chance to sustain a raucous atmosphere if they can net an early goal.