The Washington Capitals are just one win away from claiming the franchise’s first-ever Stanley Cup and the city of Washington, D.C.’s first major pro sports championship in 26 years after dominating the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final.
Here’s five takeaways from the Capitals’ impressive Game 4 win:
1. Capitals Ring up Three Goals in the First Period
Washington could smell blood and the Stanley Cup trophy being in arms reach, as they took it to the Golden Knights in the first period. The Capitals showcased their overall team speed, beating Vegas to every spot and out-hustling them for the puck. Evgeny Kuznetsov’s aggressiveness led to a scoring chance midway through the first period on a power play and T.J. Oshie deposited the bouncing puck in the net with some great footwork. Then it was Tom Wilson and Kuznetsov executing a picture-perfect give-and-go with Wilson finishing the play with the Capitals’ second goal of the game.
Devante Smith-Pelly capped the three-goal first with some good footwork to corral and score off a bouncing feed from Matt Niskanen. The Capitals and Golden Knights were even at 11 shots on goal apiece, but it was only the Capitals that broke through the armor to jump out to an insurmountable three-goal spark that vanquished Vegas.
2. Capitals Have Broken Down Wall of Marc-Andre Fleury
Golden Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was the consensus favorite to claim the Conn Smythe trophy in the Stanley Cup Final. He had a remarkable postseason leading the expansion Vegas team to the championship round of the NHL. A daunting task for the Capitals, it appeared before the series started, however, Washington has broken down the great wall of Fleury.
Fleury has been off-balanced by the great puck movement of the Capitals. The Capitals have broken through scoring three or more goals in each of the first four games of the series. Consider, Fleury allowed more three or more goals in four of 15 games in the previous three rounds of the postseason.
In Game 4, the Capitals lit the lamp on him six times with six different goal scorers. That shows how deep Washington is, and how much they have Fleury on his heels this series. He’s struggled to cover the puck and the Capitals are rushing the crease to finish off scoring chances. Now the Capitals are one more rattling outing from Fleury from putting an end to the series.
3. Capitals Dominated Special Teams
Special teams belonged to the Capitals in Game 4. With the man-advantage, Washington capitalized on three of five power plays. In addition to Oshie’s goal in the first period, John Carlson blasted a one-timer from Alex Ovechkin’s office in the second to extend the Capitals’ lead to 4-0. And Brett Connolly put away a late power play to seal the 6-2 win.
Carlson’s goal was highlighted by how he and Alex Ovechkin interchanged on the play, catching Vegas sleeping defensively — along with a huge hit by Oshie on Cody Eakin. The Capitals’ power play pushed all the right butting to convert on 60 percent of their man advantages.
Meanwhile on the opposite end, the Capitals iced the Golden Knights on all four of their power play — although James Neal’s third period goal came shortly after Kuzentsov exited the penalty box. The Capitals patient and speed negated any puck movement by Vegas. And with Braden Holtby playing lights out defending the net, the Golden Knights can’t get anything going on the power play. A three-goal power play advantage will hand a team a victory more times than not. Washington’s penalty kills highlight the team’s discipline and commitment to the greater prize.
4. Vegas Finally Looks Like an Expansion Team
It took three playoff series and a punched ticket to the Stanley Cup Final for the Golden Knights to finally look like an expansion team. The Capitals’ 1-1-3 defense and skating speed on offense along with dominating special teams have Vegas rattled.
Outside of Game 1 in which they scored six goals, they have not been able to figure out Holtby. He is shutting the door on the Golden Knights. On the flip side, the Capitals appear to be moving the puck and scoring at will. The Golden Knights are suffering from a lack of back end communication, inability to clear the puck, and cemented feet against a more aggressive Capitals’ team. As a result, Fleury is on his heels and the Golden Knights seem out of place and intimated very much like a normal expansion team.
5. One More Win Away, But It May Not Be Easy
The Capitals are one win away from hoisting the Stanley Cup, however, don’t count out the Golden Knights. They are in the Stanley Cup Final for a reason and with them being down 3-1 going back the rowdy T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, the Golden Knights will be amped and looking to stay alive in the best-of-seven series. The Golden Knights are 7-2 at home this postseason.
Considering experts predicted this to be a six or seven-game series, Vegas is more than capable of surviving. The Capitals will combat that with a 9-3 road record this postseason in which they average 3.58 goals while allowing 2.16 goals against. The Capitals will have three shots at winning one game, but certainly don’t want to come back to D.C. for a Game 6.
Vegas has been strong all year, utilizing a balance roster constructed through the expansion draft and free agency. While they have looked a step behind in each of the last three games against the Capitals, don’t count them out just yet.