For the first time in NHL postseason play, the Vegas Golden Knights have lost two games in a row.
Hesitation crept into the their play against the Washington Capitals during Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final, a 3-1 loss. That put the Golden Knights behind 2-1 in the best-of-seven series, giving the Capitals a chance to build a commanding edge Monday night in Game 4 in Washington.
“In the three games, we haven’t been good enough,” Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant told reporters Sunday. “If we don’t step up our game, the same result’s going to happen (Monday) night. So we’ll see what we’re made of.”
Vegas has quit applying shift-to-shift pressure with all four forward lines rolling.
“I think every night it’s just one or two lines that show up,” Golden Knights forward Jonathan Marchessault said, “I think that’s not good for our group. We definitely need better from everybody.”
CAPITALS GET DEFENSIVE
The Capitals frustrated the Golden Knights with their smothering team defense, the trademark of a Barry Trotz-coached team.
They denied the quick breakouts that have made the Golden Knights dangerous all season. They slowed them through the neutral zone.
Washington forced the Golden Knights to dump the puck in, then the Capitals broke the Vegas forecheck.
“You ask any skilled player, they want to have the puck with possession in speed,” Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen told reporters. “So if you can be in their face … It’s amazing just standing in the way … It’s amazing what that does. Make them move the puck sooner than they want to, hold the blue line, make them dump it and then have numbers back for the breakouts. We’ve done a good job of that.”
When Vegas gain control in the offensive zone, the Capitals kept blocking their shots — 26 in all. They blocked 15 shots in the first period alone.
The Capitals also forced the Golden Knight to miss high and/or wide. Vegas attempted 62 shots and got just 22 of them on goaltender Braden Holtby.
“They have that triangle offense: From behind the net, they take it to the net pretty hard, and they have that third guy lower than some teams,” Capitals checker Jay Beagle told ESPN.com. “We wanted to make sure we were boxing them out better, getting to the interior and protecting our net.”
In Game 3, the only Vegas goal came after Holtby turned the puck over. The Capitals’ team defense was airtight, which is why they are bidding for their first Stanley Cup.
CAPITALS BUILD ON STRONG SEASON FINISH
NHL.com notes the Capitals went 12-3-0 in their final 15 regular season games while allowing 2.29 goals per game. In the playoffs are 14-8 with 2.55 goals per game — and they are 4-1 with a 1.80 goals per game in their last five games.
Their late-season defensive reset has held through postseason play.
“We just talked about having numbers and layers, and making it difficult,” Trotz told reporters. “A lot of the man-on-man coverages you see get broken down, and there are big gaps, and we just wanted to make sure that we didn’t have gaps. … We wanted to have levels of insulation. We wanted to insulate certain areas of our game and we did it.”
VEGAS HOPES TO PUSH BACK
The Golden Knights lost the opener of the Western Conference Final to Winnipeg, then won four straight games. Now they will try to dig out of a one-game hole against the Capitals.
If they can even the series at two games each, the Golden Knights would take back the home-ice advantage.
“We’re in a familiar situation with a lot of doubters,” Vegas winger David Perron told reporters Sunday. “That’s fine with us. We’ve got to step up and play the right way, play the way that made us successful. It’s a new day today, a new opportunity. We feel confident moving forward.”
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