LAS VEGAS — After a wild opening game in the Stanley Cup Final that featured 10 goals and four lead changes, Vegas Golden Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was asked after practice on Tuesday if he expected Game 2 on Wednesday night at T-Mobile Arena to be a more boring game.
“I hope so,” Fleury said with a smile. “(Game 1) was exciting to watch but it wasn’t a goalie’s favorite. We’ll see. You never know. It’s a long series.”
The Golden Knights held on for a 6-4 victory on Monday night. Fleury, who had allowed just three goals in a four-game quarterfinal sweep of the Los Angeles Kings, surpassed that total in just one game against the Eastern Conference champion Washington Capitals, and it could have been a whole lot worse.
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Washington defenseman John Carlson clanged two shots off the goal post and center Lars Eller had a chance to tie it with 40 seconds to go but whiffed on a close-in shot at a wide-open right side of the net off a pass from Tom Wilson, in part because Vegas defenseman Brayden McNabb got just enough of Eller’s stick to distract him. Tomas Nosek then added an empty-net goal to seal it with 2.7 seconds left.
“When you slow it down and watch it, you go, ‘Just tap it in,’ ” Washington coach Barry Trotz said of Eller’s late miss. “But when you’re going 100 miles per hour and everybody is screaming — you might be exhausted at that point — and right at the end there was a two-hand chop on his stick. We tie it up there, who knows?”
What made the high-scoring contest even more unexpected is that Fleury had four shutouts and a .947 save percentage in his first 15 games in the playoffs while Washington goalie Brayden Holtby came in off back-to-back shutouts against Tampa Bay and had a scoreless streak of 166 minutes and 42 seconds ended by a first period blast from the point by Vegas defenseman Colin Miller on the power play.
“That’s just the way the game goes some nights,” Vegas coach Gerard Gallant said. “(Fleury) has been our best player all playoffs long. There’s no issue with Flower.
“Four goals sounds like a lot but again I thought he played okay last night. He’s the first guy to say last night that I’m going to be better. He’s been outstanding. We’re here because of him. We know that. … He’s the backbone of our hockey team.”
Vegas defenseman Deryk Engelland, who had two assists in the opener, said he expects a lower scoring game on Wednesday.
“I think it’s going to tighten up a little bit,” Engelland said. “Listening to everything (that was said after the game), they want to clean up some areas as do we. Not having those little breakdowns is huge. It seemed like every little breakdown was ending up in your net or in their net. Both teams are going to look to clean that up and come out ready to go.”
Washington is no stranger to falling behind in a series en route to the Final. The Capitals fell behind 0-2 to Columbus in the quarterfinals before winning in double overtime come back to win that series in six games. They also lost their opener at home to two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh before rallying to win the series, 4-2. And they trailed Tampa Bay, 3-2, in the Eastern Conference finals before outscoring the Lightning 7-0 in the final two contests, including a 4-0 victory in Game 7 in Tampa.
Still, many view Wednesday night’s game as a must-win for Washington. Teams that take a 2-0 lead in the Stanley Cup Final are 46-5 (90.2 percent) when it comes to going on to eventually hoisting the Cup. But the odds are only 55.6 percent (15-12) for a team that loses Game 2 after winning Game 1.
“If we make the adjustments that we need and everybody gets back to our foundation, I think we’ll be back in the series real quickly,” Trotz said.