Momentum has shifted in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final as game 4 comes around with one team up 2-1 and another team searching for answers.
The Washington Capitals stole game 2 from the Vegas Golden Knights in enemy territory and did more of the same in game 3 as Alex Ovechkin and company once again found a way to dismantle the tough Vegas defense.
Game 4 is pivotal for both teams as it could make or break the series. Vegas rolled through the playoffs, only having 3 losses in total before dropping 2 of the first 3 games vs. Washington in the Cup Final.
Losing is unfamiliar for this young franchise, but their inexperience seems to be showing in this round so far.
Vegas Golden Knights Preview
Game 3 saw more of the same for the Golden Knights as they lost yet again in a game where they struggled against Caps goalie, Braden Holtby. In 21 shots for the Knights, only 1 fell through behind the net, and this came about because of a mental mistake by Holtby, which is unlikely to happen again.
As a sports writer, the storyline for Vegas has become redundant to write about: Marc Andre-Fleury has disappeared and Marchessault followed him. These two players carried the Knights to a 12-3 record prior to the Stanley Cup but have gone missing in action on the big stage.
One player who has shined for Vegas so far this series has been Left Winger Tomas Nosek. Nosek got his 3rd goal of the series in game 3 in the early portion of the 3rd period. The 4th liner has certainly been working hard vs. Washington and this could have an impact on the lineups for Vegas as the Wing position has struggled mightily in the series so far.
If Vegas is to steal momentum from the hands of the Caps in game 4, they need for the 1st line to work as a cohesive unit once again. I praised 1st liners William Karlsson and Reilly Smith for their great passing and shot opportunities in my last preview, but these two players both “goose eggs” in game 3 as they combined for 0 shots on goal and 0 points.
Washington Capitals Preview
Head Coach of the Capitals, Barry Trotz, was counting his lucky stars in game 3 as his star forward, Evgeny Kuznetsov, was not injured, and was in fine form vs. Washington. Kuznetsov had a goal, an assist, and did it in only 4 shots on goal in the game and was extremely crafty with his skating.
Kuznetsov wasn’t the only Capital to star in the game, however, as forward Alex Ovechkin also padded his Stanley Cup Final resumé, getting yet another goal vs. the struggling Marc Andre-Fleury. The final scorer of the night for the Caps was Mr. Devante Smith-Pelly. Smith-Pelly’s goal won the hearts of fans everywhere as he topped it all off with a great celebration (https://russianmachineneverbreaks.com/2018/06/03/devante-smith-pelly-shows-off-his-unlimited-swagger-during-shimmy-celly/).
The key to Washington’s 2 game win streak, however has been Braden Holtby. Holtby has been on a tear following his weak game 1, in which he gave up 5 goals. Since then, Holtby has given up just 3 goals and has a remarkable .952 save percentage.
Game 4 Preview
The Golden Knights are a fantastic story. They became a team that everyone wanted to root for due to their relentless mentality. Sadly, it seems that this fairy tale will be over soon as this team simply looks lost on the ice vs. Washington.
If Vegas is to return to their winning ways, they simply need for classic-Marc Andre-Fleury to make a comeback. Fleury had an abysmal .885 save percentage in game 3 and looks like he’s exhausted vs. the Caps.
This game has become a must-win for Vegas. Expect for Reilly Smith to have a huge night in game 4 as he looks to prolong this series and give his team the upper hand again. Smith has 3 points and 2 goals in this Finals and I predict that he will tack on 3 more points for the Knights in game 4.
Unfortunately for Vegas, a big effort from one of their stars will likely not be enough to overcome this Capitals team. This team has finally figured out the formula to beating Vegas: blocking shots. The Capitals defense blocked 26 shots from the Vegas Golden Knights on Saturday and the Knights only blocked 9 of Washington’s. This is a huge reason why the Caps are up 2-1 right now.
This shot blocking will continue for Washington in game 4, and their offense will be prolific as well. Ovechkin will have a break out night as he looks to send D.C. fans home happy. Look for Ovechkin to have multiple goals that are set up from fellow 1st liner, Evgeny Kuznetsov, who will add on to his already league leading 27 points in the playoffs in a 4-3 win over Vegas.