The best wins in sports are always the first ever. You don’t know what you’re supposed to feel like when your favorite team gets the job done and you don’t know what’s to come when you have more in store.
That is where the Washington Capitals are with their fans after last night’s 3-2 win over a Vegas Golden Knights team that threw as much as they could, especially in the third period. Whether the city is prepared for it or not, to say that DC is going to be “lit” on Saturday is going to be one of the great understatements made by locals in a generation. Every hockey game since Game 6 of the Tampa series has just swelled into a crescendo of support across the area. All of Chinatown is being blocked off for the tsunami of red that will be coming to Capital One Arena every home game.
The great news about this win is that there is no complete pressure of having to face elimination at home, so the home crowd will absolutely be a cacophony of noise and carnival-like atmosphere. If only Sting, Shaggy and sooooooo much “Light a Mup” were replaced by something more up to date…
At least Pat Sajak intros count as being local?
Anywho, last Wednesday was terrific. And most importantly, Braden Holtby delivered at a time in which he was needed most. Especially in Vegas’ 5-on-4 to 5-on-3 advantage in the third period, the Golden Knights threw the absolute kitchen sink at him, only for him to shut down all of Vegas’ 5 shots on goal during that time frame. Four of the eight shot attempts ended up coming from high definition areas and not a single one of them were blocked.
Even after all that, we all know which save was the most important of all.
Just listen to the Vegas crowd after that save was made. To all “Game of Thrones” fans, remember how you felt after the Mountain decided to be “the Mountain” by killing Oberyn Martell the way he did? That is the exact noise the entirety of the crowd was projecting out in that moment. They are petrified by Holtby’s skill and presence now knowing that he can be able to pull a rabbit out of his hat. Only San Jose’s Martin Jones has come close to doing that to the Golden Knights this postseason and he wasn’t able to sustain it for an entire series. Meanwhile, Jonathan Quick just kept getting outplayed by the slimmest of margins to Marc-Andre Fleury so his performances were always null-and-void. If Vegas are going to continue to look like the faster, livelier team for all 60 minutes as their 109-97 series-long edge at even strength shot attempts indicates, than Holtby will have to be good Braden Holtby from here on out. You know things are going your way maybe a little too much when Brooks Orpik scored the game winning goal.
If Holtby doesn’t maintain 1971 Ken Dryden status, than that means that Washington will have to find ways to dictate the tempo at Capital One Arena, especially when Vegas is coming out saying they would like to lay the lumber on the Caps. They may have last change this time around, but Vegas’ top line has just been too much so far for Alex Ovechkin’s line. Ovechkin power play goal aside, not a single one of the Capitals top line forwards has been able to generate 45% puck possession or better in the two games of the Stanley Cup final. And if Evgeny Kuznetsov ends up missing any time or not looking 100% after his injury from last Wednesday, the Capitals could be in some trouble. Now Lars Eller has shown multiple times that he can deliver playing on the second line when counted upon, and Vegas doesn’t have the depth at forward that Tampa has. But that still doesn’t mean that Washington’s depth won’t be stretched too far in the long run as a result of accumulated injuries.
The Capitals are currently 4-5 at home this postseason, but they have been able to overcome harsh numbers before. They came into the playoffs with generating a bottom-tier puck possession of 48.3% until plenty of changes within the roster and in tactical deployments were made on the fly to become the Stanley Cup contenders they are now. They couldn’t win a single game at home in the first round against Columbus until Holtby and Nicklas Backstrom saved their bacon in Game 5. The same looked like it was about to happen in the Tampa Series until Game 6 turned into 60 minutes of joyful bliss. For now, this year’s Capitals have stared at so much negativity in the face and went through it with flying colors. Let’s hope they continue the trend this weekend.