On a team that features the world’s best hockey player, Alex Ovechkin, and two of the best centers, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom, it is easy to be overshadowed. Especially, when you’re a third-line center and your name is Lars Eller. Wednesday night, the Washington Capitals scored their first ever Stanley Cup Final win, taking Game 2 against the Vegas Golden Knights 3-2.
In the aftermath the headlines were stolen by Ovechkin’s first goal in the NHL’s championship round and The Save of the Year by top-tier goalie Braden Holtby. Even 37-year old Brooks Orpik got some shine after scoring his first goal in over two years. Lost in all the hoopla was the best player on the ice in Vegas that night, Lars Eller.
Eller grabbed a point on all three of the Capitals’ goals in Game 2. It was Eller who got the Capitals on the board in the first period. After winning the face-off in the offensive zone, Eller perfectly positioned himself left of the crease and buried a nifty feed from Michal Kempny to tie the game at 1-1.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) May 31, 2018
Then it was Eller on power play in the second that pulled off a nifty feed of his own, dishing to a waiting Ovechkin for the Caps’ second goal. He also navigated a Washington rush before dropping off the puck for Orpik to bury in the net to end Orpik’s 220-game scoring drought.
Eller’s contributions came all after Kuznetsov exited the game in the first period after being on the receiving end of a questionable hit from Vegas’ defenseman Brayden McNabb. Capitals head coach Barry Trotz was forced to thrust Eller into extended ice time to compensate for the loss of Kuznetsov who did not return to the game. For Eller it was business as usual. He had filled in earlier in the postseason when Backstrom was out nursing a hand injury at the conclusion of their second-round series win over Pittsburgh and the start of their Eastern Conference Final series against Tampa Bay.
Lars Eller: 10 points (4 goals, 6 assists) in the 6 playoff games Nicklas Backstrom or Evgeny Kuznetsov have dealt with/missed bc of injury. #AllCaps
— Pete Jensen 🏒 (@NHLJensen) May 31, 2018
Eller has rose to the occasion when his team needed him most throughout the postseason. It was his goal in double overtime that gave Washington its first win of this postseason. The Capitals were down 2-0 in the series against the Blue Jackets after losing the first two games on home ice, but Eller played the hero in Game 3 that shifted the tide of the series as the Capitals won four straight to win the series.
Eller now has six goals and 11 assists during the Capitals’ postseason run. That’s tied for fourth on the team with T.J. Oshie with 17 points. Eller has a plus-6 rating which is higher than better known stars Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Oshie.
Eller has rejuvenated his career that got stale over the past couple of seasons after starting in Saint Louis and then moving on to Montreal. The Capitals had to retool their stagnant roster after their countless failed postseasons. As the pieces were allowed to move on to greener pastures, Eller was pegged to an increased role this season, his second with the Capitals. It resulted in a career-high 38 points in 81 games.
His newfound success in the regular season has given him immeasurable confidence. He is more aggressive firing off 46 shots during the postseason. Five of his six goals are at even strength. And his two game-winners will live in Capitals allure.
Eller has fit in wherever the Capitals have needed him. It has taken him some time, but now Eller is showing why Caps’ general manager Brian MacLellan committed to him to the tune of a five-year deal worth $17.5 million. Playoffs create legacies, and Eller’s is growing even if his shine is being overshadowed by the crop of stars in Washington.