clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Stanley Cup Final is an awesome, rip-roaring mess

In Game 1, chaos reigned between the Golden Knights and Capitals. Vegas finished a hair ahead.

2018 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game One Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Monday brought us the game with the most lead changes, four, in Stanley Cup Final history. It ended with the Golden Knights scoring an empty-net goal to finish off the Capitals, 6-4.

A Game 1 can only reveal so much about a series. It can’t tell us who will win it. But this first game sent at least one clear message: This Cup Final is going to be bananas.

Both goaltenders looked beatable for the first time in a while

Marc-Andre Fleury entered this game with historic playoff numbers. His 1.68 goals-against average and .947 save percentage were the best in the league by a mile. If Fleury were to finish this series with those numbers, it would mark the best goaltending playoff run ever.

Braden Holtby hadn’t allowed a goal in almost 160 minutes of clock time. He pitched back-to-back shutouts in the games that got the Capitals here.

Both looked a bit off in Game 1. Fleury gave up four goals and watched a couple more shots ring off his posts, which he then rubbed to thank. He kicked a puck into his own net and didn’t make the kinds of 10-bell saves he’s made all playoffs. Holtby’s rebound control was at turns a nightmare.

Of the nine non-empty-net goals scored in this game, only one or two came on plays where the goalie couldn’t have done something about it.

Maybe Fleury and Holtby bounce back in Game 2. Maybe not.

Defensemen on both sides are jumping into the offense.

Both teams got one goal from the blue line: the Golden Knights from Colin Miller on a standard power-play slapper from 44 feet out, and the Capitals from John Carlson after he astutely jumped into the play and finished a layup off a nice pass from T.J. Oshie.

On Vegas’ go-ahead goal in the third period, a defenseman made the whole play. Shea Theodore skated away from the Capitals’ Devante Smith-Pelly and threaded a needle cross-ice to Tomas Nosek, who’d opened up for an easy one-timer from Holtby’s right.

Defensemen had six points and were in on four of the nine non-empty-netters. Aggressive defensemen are fun, because they create offense on both ends of the ice. If they get caught up ice, it leads to odd-man rushes or forwards having to play defenseman in their place. These teams’ freewheeling styles on the back end should make for more goals.

Something spunky has gotten into Vegas’ fourth-liners.

Raise your hand if you had Tomas Nosek scoring two more goals than Alex Ovechkin. Now put your hand down, you deceitful liar.

Nosek didn’t do anything revolutionary on either of his two goals. Theodore put his first on a platter, and the second required him only to track down a puck and slide it into a vacant net with no resistance. And on the other goal scored by a member of the Golden Knights’ fourth line, Ryan Reaves should’ve been penalized before he could score it. He put a hard cross-check into Carlson’s back to set himself up with the opportunity.

Washington coach Barry Trotz said afterward he “didn’t like” the Reaves goal and thought the Capitals were heading to a power play instead. He had a right to be angry.

But the guys at the bottom of Knights’ depth chart earned their looks.

The three players on that line — Nosek, Reaves, and center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare — were the three best Knights on the ice at even strength, if you believe possession metrics like the percentage of shot attempts a team controls while players on the ice. When the Vegas fourth-liners were on the ice at even strength, the Golden Knights took about 75 percent of the shots and generated about 80 percent of the scoring chances.

They entered Game 1 with a combined five points in the playoffs.

The referees might not do anything to tame this series.

All of the other oddities in this game were fun forms of chaos. This part is not. The referees who worked Game 1, Wes McCauley and Marc Joannette, let some bad hits go by without punishing players properly. Reaves deserved two minutes (either for cross-checking or interference) for leveling Carlson before scoring his tying goal. He got none.

Worse, the Capitals’ Tom Wilson got two minutes for interference after he chased down Vegas’ Jonathan Marchessault, who didn’t have the puck, and dropped him with a high hit.

Even those two minutes were unimportant, because Vegas also had a man sent to the box. The teams played four-on-four, and Wilson didn’t face any consequence. Yet.

One former ref’s view of what should’ve happened:

Wilson told reporters that Marchessault told him on the ice that it was a “good hit.” Marchessault said (apparently correctly) that he was blindsided.

“I’m sure the league will take care of it,” the Vegas winger said.

Wilson has been suspended twice before, including once in these playoffs. Whether the league issues him another or not, its referees should take more control of Game 2.