The Washington Capitals are on the verge of capturing the first title in their 43rd NHL season after routing the expansion Vegas Golden Knights 6-2 on Monday night. Game 5 of the best-of-seven Stanley Cup Final is Thursday in Las Vegas.
WASHINGTON – Evgeny Kuznetsov smiled about getting four assists. He tried not to smile too much at the thought of his team being one victory away from securing the Stanley Cup.
With Kuznetsov and goaltender Braden Holtby leading the way, the Washington Capitals are on the verge of capturing the first title in their 43rd NHL season after routing the expansion Vegas Golden Knights 6-2 on Monday night. The Capitals have a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven Stanley Cup Final.
Alex Ovechkin and Washington teammates will get their first chance to hoist the Cup in Game 5 on Thursday night in Las Vegas.
One more victory.
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“I’ve never been there,” Kuznetsov said after the fourth four-assist game in Cup Final history. “And I don’t really care about that yet, so it’s kind of easy for me. You know me, I always stay loose a little bit … I’m pretty sure when game gonna come, we’re gonna a little bit think about it. It’s pretty hard to not think about that.”
T.J. Oshie, Tom Wilson and Devante Smith-Pelly all scored in the first period to get the Capitals rolling against a determined Vegas team that has not found consistent answers against Holtby, who stopped 28 shots in another strong showing.
The Golden Knights outchanced the Capitals by a wide margin, but fell apart after James Neal clanked a shot off the post instead of hitting a wide-open net early.
“It probably changes the game,” Neal said of failing to score. “It’s probably a different game after that. I had a wide-open net, and then I just hit the post.”
John Carlson, Michal Kempny and Brett Connolly also scored as thunderous chants of “We want the Cup! We want the Cup!” rang out from the crowd. No team since the Detroit Red Wings in 1942 has blown a 3-1 lead in the Final.
The Capitals seem to be getting enough bounces to make up for nine previous first- or second-round playoff exits in the Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom era — and plenty of disappointments in the previous decades, too.
“Close, but everyone here knows the fourth game is the toughest trying to close a team out,” Smith-Pelly said. “Until that buzzer goes, try not to think about it too much.”
While Vegas rang shots off the posts, the Capitals seized just about every opportunity — as they have often in this surprising run. Kuznetsov padded his lead as the playoffs’ leading scorer with primary assists on Oshie’s power-play goal that made it 1-0 and Wilson’s goal that doubled the lead.
“He just tells me to put my stick on the ice and he’ll hit it,” Wilson said of Kuznetsov. “It’s a privilege to play with him.”
Smith-Pelly, who scored the insurance goal to ice Game 3, kicked the puck from his left skate to his stick and roofed a shot on Marc-Andre Fleury with 20.5 seconds left in the first period.
Fleury came into the Final as the Conn Smythe front-runner for playoff MVP honors, but looked human again by allowing six goals on 23 shots.
Fleury called the loss “frustrating and demoralizing.” Vegas coach Gerard Gallant was quick to absolve his goaltender of blame.
“At least five of the six goals were wide-open nets,” Gallant said. “Nothing he could do on them.”