LAS VEGAS: The Washington Capitals held on to beat the Las Vegas Golden Knights 3-2 on Wednesday, handing the upstart expansion club a rare home defeat to level the NHL’s Stanley Cup Finals at one game apiece.
Washington captain Alexander Ovechkin scored the go-ahead goal in the second period as the Capitals knotted the best-of-seven championship series as it heads to Washington for games three and four on Saturday and Monday.
Vegas, who surged back to win game one on Monday, lost at home for just the second time this post-season.
The Knights had opened the scoring through James Neal less than eight minutes into the contest.
Washington answered with a goal from Lars Eller late in the first, and later seized the lead with second-period goals from Ovechkin and Brooks Orpik.
Shea Theodore scored on a powerplay late in the second to pull the Golden Knights within one, but the Capitals, who lost leading scorer Evgeny Kuznetsov to injury in the first period, held on.
Goalie Braden Holtby’s 37 saves included a sprawling stop against Alex Tuch with 1:59 remaining to preserve the win.
“Obviously, these boards have been really true all the time and somehow it bounced out,” said Holtby, who reached back to save Tuch’s shot with his stick.
“It was the hockey gods,” said Caps coach Barry Trotz. “A great save with 1:59 left and you could see the emotion on our bench. I knew we were going to win the game after that.”
Earlier in the third, the Capitals penalty killers thwarted a 5-on-3 power-play opportunity for 68 seconds, and Holtby said that was a key to the contest.
“We have a really proud group of penalty killers,” he said. “They live and die by that. They did an amazing job. That was the turning point of the game.”
After Neal beat Holtby with a shot from the left face-off circle to put Vegas up 1-0 at 7:58 of the first period, Washington scored the next three goals.
Eller tied it 1-1 at 17:27 of the first, firing in a shot from the bottom of the right circle off a pass from Michal Kempný.
Eller set up Ovechkin for a power-play goal from the bottom of the left circle to give Washington a 2-1 lead at 5:38 of the second.
Eller one-touched a pass from the goal line on the right side to Ovechkin and the Russian star one-timed the puck for his 13th goal of the playoffs.
While the Golden Knights are trying to become the first expansion team in major US sports history to win the title in their first year, the Capitals are vying for a first title in their 43-season history, having reached the final for just the second time, 20 years after they were swept by Detroit in 1998.
Eller was on the first power-play unit in place of Kuznetsov, who departed clutching one arm at 14:42 of the first after a hit by Knights defenseman Brayden McNabb.
“I think every time we’ve faced adversity whether it’s we’re down in games or we lose guys, everybody just steps up a bit,” Eller said. “The more I’m out there, the better I feel on the puck.”
Orpik made it 3-1 with a goal from the right circle off a pass from Eller at 9:41 of the second.
It was Orpik’s first goal in 220 games, his first playoff goal since April 21, 2014.