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The Capitals have pushed Golden Knights to the brink

The Golden Knights are on the brink of elimination after a disastrous Game 4 in the Stanley Cup Final.

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

The Vegas Golden Knights trail the Washington Capitals, 3-1, in the Stanley Cup Final after their 6-2 defeat in Game 4 on Monday. It was a sloppy, ugly game for the Knights, who at times controlled every aspect of play save for the most important: the scoreboard.

The word “luck” will be thrown around a lot, given how many opportunities the Knights saw shut down, while the Capitals couldn’t miss a shot. But Braden Holtby was excellent for the Capitals, and you can’t discount that. By the end of the second period, the Knights had 22 shots on goal, 26 hits and three power play attempts, but zero goals.

Meanwhile, the Capitals, at that point, had 15 shots on goal, 22 hits, and two power plays, both of which yielded goals. And that was just going into the third period.

The Knights took better shots, had better opportunities and made the most of them, but the goalie play of Holtby was too on-point, while Marc-Andre Fleury has struggled all series against Washington.

The Knights finally scored with 14 minutes remaining in the third period, but it was too little, too late. They added a second tally with about seven minutes left in the game.

The Capitals will try and close out the Golden Knights in Game 5 on Thursday, from Vegas.

Here’s a reverse chronology of the game:

Third period

FINAL: WAS 6, VGK2

Capitals keep their top power play line out there on the ice and Engelland puts Ovechkin into the boards. McNabb is given a penalty for a hit on Oshie, and things are getting chippy. We’re right on the edge of a huge brawl at this point. It’s a 5-on-3 for 1:13, and Oshie is given a 10-minute misconduct, so he’s out. Theodore blocks a shot from Kuznetsov, but it goes across the ice and Connolly scores on the power play. Reaves called for unsportsmanlike conduct against Smith-Pelly. They run the clock down and we’re off to Game 5.

3:03: WAS 5, VGK2

Holtby saves as hot by Theodore, and the follow-up is blocked by Orlov. Sbisa has a slapshot saved by Holtby. Djoos shoots wide, and Schmidt gets a tripping penalty on Kuznetsov. That’s ... definitely not going to help things. Three minutes to go and a two-minute power play.

6:21: WAS 5, VGK2

We get a 4-on-4 after Wilson and Reaves go to the box for fighting. Backstrom wins the faceoff for Washington, but loses the puck to Theodore, who sees his shot go off the post. Miller catches an elbow to the face, and the Capitals have an open shot attempt — and it’s good. Kempny gets the goal, assisted by Backstrom and Oshie.

7:34: WAS 4, VGK 2

Oshie has a slapshot saved by Fleury. The Capitals try and get the puck out of the zone, but Marchessault gets a takeaway, dumps it to Smith, who manages to get it past Holtby for the goal!

9:43: WAS 4, VGK 1

Haula wins a couple faceoffs after an icing call, and Engelland tries to shoot, but it’s blocked off by Kempny. Puck goes into the benches after a couple hits between Sbisa and Wilson.

12:51: WAS 4, VGK 1

Alex Ovechkin was denied on a breakaway, and on the other end, Ryan Carpenter had a shot blocked as he tried to make something happen on the rush.

14:17: WAS 4, VGK 1

It’s unlikely to matter, but the Golden Knights are on the board. Just after a tripping minor to Evgeny Kuznetsov expired, James Neal scored a de-facto power-play goal. He pivoted to the left of Braden Holtby and roofed a shot over the goaltender’s right shoulder.

16:18: WAS 4, VGK 0

The Knights killed a two-minute slashing minor to Erik Haula, their first successful penalty kill in two tries. Evgeny Kuznetsov’s now off for a trip.

18:27: WAS 4, VGK 0

Not that the Capitals need it, but they’ll get a chance to score another power-play goal. Erik Haula’s in the penalty box for slashing. The Capitals are 2-for-2 with the man advantage tonight.

20:00: WAS 4, VGK 0

The Capitals have not pulled Marc-Andre Fleury. He starts the third period having given up four goals on 15 shots. Maxime Lagace, his backup, remains on the bench.

Second intermission: Capitals 4, Golden Knights 0

There’s no drama in the District tonight. The Capitals are going to win this game and take a 3-1 series lead. They’ll be 60 minutes from the first Stanley Cup win in their 43-year history.

The Golden Knights have skated well. They have a 22-15 edge in shots on goal and a 38-20 advantage in total attempts at five-on-five. Goaltending and special teams have ruined them. The Capitals are 2-for-2 on the power play and 3-for-3 on the penalty kill. Marc-Andre Fleury, so great for three rounds, has continued a downward Final spiral and let up four goals on 15 shots. These are correctable things, but Vegas’ hole is going to be deep.

The Golden Knights haven’t just had more shots than the Capitals. They’ve had better shots. The difference here has boiled down to goaltending and some missed Vegas chances:

Natural Stat Trick

It wouldn’t be shocking if Vegas coach Gerard Gallant yanked Fleury for the third period and turned to backup Maxime Lagace. Fleury has so far played every minute of these Vegas playoffs, save for the ones in rare six-on-five situations. After 18 and two-thirds games of carrying the load, the Knights could do worse than to let Fleury recharge for Game 5.

Second period

4:37: WAS 4, VGK 0

If Game 4 wasn’t over already, it is now. John Carlson’s one-timer from the left circle just gave Washington a 4-0 lead. The Capitals are 2-for-2 on the power play, and the Golden Knights are 0-for-3. Washington will be a win away from its first ever Cup.

Evgeny Kuznetsov has his third point of the night and 30th of the playoffs, an assist on Carlson’s goal. If (when?) the Capitals win this series, he should be the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as playoff MVP. He’s been sublime in this series, now with six points in four games (and he missed most of Game 2 with an injury).

5:15: WAS 3, VGK 0

The Capitals are 1-for-1 with a power play and getting another shot.

6:13: WAS 3, VGK 0

Golden Knights defenseman Shea Theodore had a miserable Game 2, and he hasn’t been much better tonight. He’s a minus-2 and just committed an icing while overshooting teammate Reilly Smith with a pass down the left wing.

8:44: WAS 3, VGK 0

The Golden Knights’ third power play brought them sustained possession and some decent chances to score on Braden Holtby. It didn’t bring any goals, and time’s running short.

10:42: WAS 3, VGK 0

The Golden Knights are getting their third power play of the night, the result of an offensive-zone cross-checking penalty on the Capitals’ Tom Wilson. Vegas is 2-of-10 in the series.

12:04: WAS 3, VGK 0

Capitas defenseman Michal Kempny should’ve scored to make it 4-0. He didn’t, but the Capitals are going for a knockout punch right now.

12:36: WAS 3, VGK 0

The Capitals successfully killed their second penalty of the night. Braden Holtby gloved a Colin Miller slapper from the defenseman’s back foot a few seconds after John Carlson was sprung from the box. The Golden Knights aren’t showing signs of life.

14:39: WAS 3, VGK 0

Washington’s John Carlson took his second tripping penalty of the night, this one for taking down a toe-dragging William Karlsson to end a two-on-one for Vegas.

Vegas is 0-for-1 on the night with the man advantage.

17:50: WAS 3, VGK 0

Vegas had a chance early in the period. Reilly Smith fanned on the puck:

And that sums up how this has gone.

20:00: WAS 3, VGK 0

First intermission: Capitals 3, Golden Knights 0

The Capitals delivered what might be a knockout punch in this game when Devante Smith-Pelly beat Marc-Andre Fleury to extend the lead with 20 seconds left.

Shots on goal were 11-11. Vegas spent a lot of the period with the puck on its sticks and, particularly early, had chances to beat Braden Holtby. The Golden Knights didn’t, but the Capitals sure did. Fleury looks helpless, and he’s now given up 13 goals on 101 shots in this series. That’s a miserable .871 save percentage.

Unless Fleury enters some sort of god-like mode for the rest of this series — meaning, starting in Game 5, because this one’s likely over already — Vegas is out of this thing.

First period

0:20: WAS 3, VGK 0

It’s another Capitals goal — the second of the series for Devante Smith-Pelly, who pounced on a loose puck to Marc-Andre Fleury’s left and roofed it.

Fleury, nearly unbeatable for the first three rounds of these playoffs, looks undone. The Golden Knights look cooked in this game, and it’s been one period.

3:34: WAS 2, VGK 0

This is trouble for the Golden Knights. Tom Wison got the puck wide-open in front of Marc-Andre Fleury after some nice cycle work with Evgeny Kuznetsov. Wilson scored. Kuznetsov has two points and is up to 29 in the playoffs, most in the league.

4:49: WAS 1, VGK 0

The Golden Knights have looked deflated since they botched a couple of prime scoring chances in the early minutes and then gave up a power-play goal to T.J. Oshie. Still, Vegas is pressing. The Knights have an 18-9 advantage in shot attempts and have forced Braden Holtby to make eight saves, but he’s been up to the task every time.

Oshie got here via public transit for the second game in a row:

9:16: WAS 1, VGK 0

The Golden Knights missed a golden opportunity on their own first power play of the game, when James Neal hit the post instead of an almost completely empty net. The Capitals didn’t miss on their own power play, when T.J. Oshie did what you’re supposed to do when the goalie isn’t in position and you’re on a power play in the Stanley Cup Final:

That’s a two-goal swing. Vegas cannot have it

10:06: WAS 1, VGK 0

The Capitals strike first, on a power play. T.J. Oshie crashed the net and used his skate to gather the rebound of an Evgeny Kuznetsov shot. Then he buried it past Marc-Andre Fleury.

That’s Oshie’s eighth goal of the playoffs. For Kuznetsov, it’s a league-leading 28th playoff point. The other assist goes to Nicklas Backstrom.

10:38: VGK 0, WAS 0

The Capitals will get their first power play after a dramatic penalty kill against the Knights.

Confirmed: James Neal hit the post on Vegas’ power play a few minutes ago, while an open net yawned at him. It looked from my vantage that Braden Holby stopped this shot:

You really can’t have misses like that in the Stanley Cup Final.

13:10: VGK 0, WAS 0

The Capitals killed the Golden Knights’ power play, and wow, did James Neal just miss. He had most of an empty net to shoot at, but Braden Holtby made a preposterous save or the post did. Capital One Arena is jumping right now.

16:02: VGK 0, WAS 0

The best chance in the early going was just there for Vegas winger Reilly Smith, but he hit the outside of the net while Braden Holtby was out of position.

The Golden Knights are getting a power play, though. John Carlson is going to the penalty box for tripping. The Knights are 2-for-8 in the series.

19:24: VGK 0, WAS 0

The game is underway. Vegas controlled the opening faceoff and got the puck deep into Washington’s end on the opening shift. A nice little start for the visitors.


Warmups

Vegas winger David Perron did not taking the pregame skate for Vegas. He’ll be a scratch. Tomas Tatar, who’s only played in six playoff games and none of the last five, was on the ice.

Other than that, Vegas’ lineup appears standard:

The Capitals won’t make any changes, judging by pregame line rushes.

Tatar has had a weird (and altogether bad) season. A trade deadline acquisition from the Red Wings for a trio of high draft picks, he scored four goals in 20 regular-season appearances for Vegas and has tallied just once in his six playoff games. Tatar has proven to be a crafty little scorer for much of his career, and Gerard Gallant clearly hopes he’ll give the Knights a boost that Perron couldn’t. (Perron has zero playoff goals.)

Preview

Vegas won Game 1 a week ago, but the Capitals gritted out a Game 2 win to even the series and then put a hurting on the Knights in a dominant Game 3 win. That game, back in Washington, was a watershed moment for both the Capitals and local sports in general. It was the franchise’s first home win ever in a Stanley Cup Final, the first time it ever took a series lead in a Cup Final, and the first championship-round home win for a D.C. team since the Bullets beat the SuperSonics in the 1978 NBA Finals. Fans were really into it.

The Capitals have gotten brilliant play all playoffs from Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov, the Russian national teammates who have found chemistry like never before. They scored the first two of the Caps’ three goals in Game 3, both on plays where the Capitals outclassed Vegas’ defense to set up scoring opportunities.

Vegas’ key this postseason has been goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. It hasn’t been Fleury’s fault that the Knights have lost their last two games. But he’s still coughed up a 3.42 goals-against average and posted just an .875 save percentage in the Final so far. That won’t be good enough to turn the tide against a more talented opponent. Fleury had a .947 save percentage and 1.68 GAA through the Western Conference playoffs.

We’ll update this post with scores, observations, highlights, and analysis from the press box at Capital One Arena. Enjoy Game 4.