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LAS VEGAS (AP) Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant for months
talked about his team’s hard work Dustin
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, ability to battle and their devotion to
playing a full ”200 feet of hockey.”In pockets of Game 2 in the Stanley Cup
Final on Wednesday night, the Golden Knights were surprisingly outworked,
outbattled and outhustled in losing 3-2 to the Washington Capitals. Game 3 is
Saturday night in Washington and Vegas is going to need to up the energy level
even further in a frantic series with scoring chances galore.Vegas outshot the
Capitals 39-26, but the hustle stats in Game 2 went to Washington, which handed
the expansion club just its second home loss of the postseason. Washington had
18 blocked shots to eight for Vegas, helping goaltender Braden Holtby turn
things around. He allowed five goals in the opener but was sublime in Game 2 as
he made 37 saves – none bigger than stopping Alex Tuch with the paddle of his
stick in a sprawling move with just 1:59 left.Washington also showed its mettle
on the penalty kill, limiting the Golden Knights to a single goal in four
attempts – including a 5-on-3 on the third period.”You’ve got to try and
capitalize on those,” Vegas defenseman Luca Sbisa said. ”It’s just one of those
games, even at the end, with Tuchy having that chance. Most of times it goes in.
It’s just one of those games.”And while Washington outhit the Golden Knights,
46-39, it was some of Vegas’ bigger hits that ignited the Capitals in the second
period.Vegas defenseman Brayden McNabb hammered Washington’s first-line forward
Evgeny Kuznetsov Valtteri
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, sending him to the dressing room with a
little more than five minutes left in the first period. He didn’t
return.Washington coach Barry Trotz didn’t provide an update on his star
afterward, but said it was the key moment in the game for his team.”It
galvanized us as a group, I think it might be a turning point for us,” Trotz
said.With Kuznetsov out, Trotz added Nicklas Backstrom to his top line with Alex
Ovechkin and Tom Wilson. And 5:38 into the second period, with the game tied at
1-all and the Capitals on a power play, Ovechkin scored his first career Stanley
Cup Final goal to give the Capitals the lead.”I think they got energy from that,
I think they were pissed off, that’s how sports go,” Vegas forward Erik Haula
said. ”You see one of your best players go down and you’re pissed off, that’s
part of it. It’s no excuse for us. Bottom line is we were right in that game I
think, it was right there for us to grab Fredrik
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, we just came short.”Vegas unraveled and
gave up more uncharacteristic chances in front of Marc-Andre Fleury, who has yet
to lose consecutive games this postseason. The Golden Knights also had 12
turnovers compared to Washington’s four.”We shot ourselves in the foot a few
times with some turnovers,” Golden Knights defenseman Nate Schmidt said. ”At the
end of the day you really have got to see where your game is at. If you look at
it as a whole, we played really well for parts of the first period and we got
caught up in the transition game in the second period – and that’s not the game
we want to play.”Instead, Washington fed off the momentum and dictated the
tempo, and a little less than four minutes after Ovechkin scored, Brooks Orpik
broke a 220-game goal drought with the eventual game winner. It was his first
goal since Feb. 26, 2016.”I haven’t yelled that loud for someone to score a goal
since Ovi scored one of his milestones,” Washington forward T.J. Oshie
said.Though the Golden Knights outshot Washington 15-6 in the third period, the
Capitals skated faster, competed better, worked harder and played smarter to
steal home-ice advantage with their first-ever Final win. The Capitals return to
Capital One Arena Dylan
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, where they have just a 4-5 record in the
postseason. Vegas is 6-2 on the road in the playoffs.—More Stanley Cup coverage:
https://apnews.com/tag/StanleyCupFinals Jon Cooper didn’t blame Andrei
Vasilevskiy for the Tampa Bay Lightning digging a deep hole early in the Eastern
Conference final.Two games and two losses brought plenty of criticism of the
young Russian goaltender. Cooper wasn’t thrilled about that.”The questions were
coming from the other side of the table, and I felt it was the questioning of
Vasilevskiy,” the Tampa Bay coach said. ”We don’t. He’s been the guy for
us.”Vasilevskiy is the guy who turned the series around for the Lightning, who
now lead the Capitals 3-2 and can eliminate Washington on the road in Game 6 on
Monday night and move on to the Stanley Cup Final against the Vegas Golden
Knights. After a 6.00 goals-against average and .839 save percentage in Games 1
and 2, he has a 2.00 GAA and .943 save percentage since as the series’ biggest
difference-maker.”Just tried to stay positive and play my game,” Vasilevskiy
said last week. ”It’s very important, especially in the playoffs. Good or bad
game, doesn’t matter. Turn the page, start over again and again. That’s how you
get success.”Vasilevskiy has found plenty of success this season, his first as a
full-time NHL starter. The 23-year-old is a Vezina Trophy finalist after leading
the league with 44 wins and eight shutouts.But Vasilevskiy hasn’t made it easy
on himself. He rarely does.Cooper saw it during the 2016-17 season when
Vasilevskiy struggled during a stretch of 10 consecutive starts when Ben Bishop
was hurt and then again late this season when a swoon by him and the entire team
almost cost Tampa Bay the East’s top seed. Vasilevskiy bounced back strong each
time.”His ability to be able to turn the page now and understand, `You know what
there might be a tough night for you, but I’m going to go out the next night
anyway and I’ve got to be there for my team Gabriel
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,’ – I think that’s where his growth process
has really come in,” Cooper said.The same happened between Games 2 and 3 in this
series. The shy Vasilevskiy who has been reluctant to do interviews told a pool
reporter he didn’t make any adjustments from his worst games against the
Capitals to his best.Somehow, he has looked like an entirely different goalie.
Chants of ”Vasy! Vasy!” filled Amalie Arena in Game 5 on Saturday night when he
stopped 28 of 30 shots, and the highest praise was reserved for inside the
Lightning’s locker room.”He’s a world class goaltender, that’s what he does,”
defenseman Braydon Coburn said. ”He battles hard every day in practice all
season long, and he’s raised his game in the playoffs here.”No doubt his
teammates have improved their play in front of Vasilevskiy, with defenseman
Anton Stralman saying: ”We always feel like we owe him.” But against a
star-studded Capitals team led by countrymen Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov,
Vasilevskiy had to raise his game to give Tampa Bay any chance.Lightning captain
Steven Stamkos said confidence in Vasilevskiy never wavered, and he has showed
them on the ice evidence of what they’ve seen all season.”He just expects a
lot,” Stamkos said. ”You see his work ethic every day in practice. You guys
don’t get to see what goes on in the room, but his mental preparation James
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, his physical preparation, he wants to
be the best all the time. He doesn’t want to give up a goal at all, including in
practice. That’s the mentality he has and that’s why he’s so good.”If the
Capitals can crack Vasilevskiy like they did the first two times, there will be
a Game 7 on Wednesday night at Tampa Bay. But they’d better figure that out and
get an even better game from Braden Holtby because the Lightning are 11-0 in the
playoffs when scoring three-plus goals.That record is thanks to Vasilevskiy, who
doesn’t like cameras but loves playoff hockey.”It’s definitely a fun time,” he
said. ”Lot of emotions. Different hockey. It’s pretty fun to play. Just
excitement level is pretty high. A different season.”—AP Sports Writer Fred
Goodall in Tampa, Florida, contributed to this report.—
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