The Washington Capitals are up 3-1 in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final, but the Vegas Golden Knights are back home at T-Mobile Arena for Game 5. We checked in with our panel to answer the biggest questions — and get their pick on the game.
The Knights must ______ to win Game 5.
Greg Wyshynski, senior hockey writer: Create an ounce of doubt in the minds of the Capitals. You can count on one hand the number of times it felt like the Capitals didn’t have control of this series since Game 2. In previous rounds, the Golden Knights stunned their opponents with speed and scoring and, most importantly, a hole from which those opponents had to dig. In 10 of their 15 games preceding the Stanley Cup Final, the Knights held a lead after two periods. They won each time. They didn’t lead entering the third in this series’ first four games. “When we’re playing our game, we’re putting doubt in other teams’ minds,” defenseman Shea Theodore said. Considering the Capitals’ history with 3-1 playoff leads, that’s essential.
Emily Kaplan, national hockey reporter: Tighten up on defense and clog shooting lanes. Most lopsided stat from the Final: In the Capitals’ three wins, they have a 68-25 advantage in blocked shots. Other than that, the Golden Knights should start the game exactly as they did in Game 4, buzzing with energy. Several Vegas players said Game 4 was their best performance of the series. (I agree.) Keep at it, and don’t get discouraged — and pray that the hockey gods even out the bounces.
Chris Peters, hockey prospects writer: Dictate the pace of the game and own the puck more consistently. The Golden Knights have had stretches, even during the past few games, when they looked like the better team. If they can use their speed to keep the pressure on Washington’s blue line, test Braden Holtby and keep the puck at the other end of the ice as much as possible, they’re going to give themselves a chance. This team has thrived on everyone’s contributions, and it will need every last guy playing an attacking brand of hockey that made it one of the NHL’s best stories in years.
Victoria Matiash, fantasy hockey analyst: Erupt with a first-period effort similar to what we saw in Game 4. They were the better team through 20 minutes. Fourteen times out of 15, James Neal doesn’t miss that open net — which would set an entirely different tone for the rest of the period — and the Knights would head back to the dressing up one or more instead of down 3-0.
Ben Arledge, Insider NHL editor: Attack early and often. The crowd is the Knights’ best asset in Game 5, and you can’t lose it with a sluggish start. If Vegas can pot one in the opening minutes and set the tone, it’ll be in good shape. Start flat and let Washington play its game, though, and it will be a long night. From the puck drop, the Knights need to be the better team. Even if the game starts 30 minutes later than expected again so Panic! at the Disco can play a full set, the Golden Knights can’t afford to show up late.
What was the turning point for the Capitals’ season?
Wyshynski: The most important game of the Capitals’ season, and perhaps the Alex Ovechkin era up until this point, was Game 6 of the second round, when they eliminated the Pittsburgh Penguins. Please recall that this was the game in which they were without center Nicklas Backstrom and winger Andre Burakovsky to injury, and Tom Wilson to suspension. A Game 7 seemed inevitable. Instead, the Capitals got a goal created by Alex Chiasson and Nathan Walker, neither of whom have seen a second of ice time in the Final, and the game winner created by Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov. The unburdening of the weight of previous playoff failures — the Capitals defeated the Penguins for just the second time in 11 series in franchise history — has propelled them to one win from the Cup.
Kaplan: What’s different about this team — as opposed to the many excellent Alex Ovechkin-led teams over the past 13 years — is its success in the playoffs. So I have to point to Game 3 of the first round. Down 2-0 in the series — after squandering regulation leads to lose in overtime — Washington finally got the bounce it needed in the form of an ugly double-overtime goal. This gave the Capitals the confidence to thwart their biggest foes, the Penguins, in the second round, and the rest is — they hope — history.
Peters: I’m going with the same series as Emily, but I’m going to go with the emphatic close-out in Game 6 against the Blue Jackets. With the Caps, no one is comfortable until a series is over. In that game, Holtby got a lot of work as the Blue Jackets just kept pouring it on, finishing with 38 shots on goal. Each time Columbus seemed to have life, the Capitals would snatch it away. That game was eye-opening and showed that this team could close, even if it was still a little hard to believe given the club’s recent postseason history.
Matiash: Wedging myself between Emily and Chris, I felt the tide truly turn in the Capitals’ favor in Game 4 against the Blue Jackets. After nailing a crucial overtime win in Game 3 to draw back into the series, Washington left little to question with a dominating 4-1 victory in Game 4. Ovechkin was terrific. Kuznetsov racked up four points. Holtby was nearly impenetrable. Although the series was now tied 2-2, there was already a sense of looking forward to the next round, and — Penguins or no Penguins — beyond.