EditorsNote: Updates with quotes throughout
Tomas Nosek scored two goals, including what proved to be the game-winner with 10:16 remaining in the third period, to lead the Vegas Golden Knights to a wild 6-4 victory over the Washington Capitals in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday night at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
Nosek, who had just 15 points and seven goals in 67 games during the regular season, scored his second and third goals of the playoffs. Reilly Smith had a goal and an assist, and William Karlsson, Ryan Reaves and Colin Miller also scored goals for Vegas, which improved to 13-3 in the playoffs, including 7-1 at home. Deryk Engelland added two assists.
“We kept battling back,” Golden Knights head coach Gerard Gallant said. “We went down 4-3, and we never quit. Fortunately for us, we got some bounces and worked hard.”
Marc-Andre Fleury made 24 saves to pick up his 75th career playoff victory, just two behind Mike Vernon for seventh on the all-time list.
“Maybe a little too exciting for the goalies,” Fleury said of the high-scoring affair, despite both goaltenders entering on hot streaks. “Sometimes it goes that way. ... For me it was just about trying to stop the next one and keep us close in the game.”
Nicklas Backstrom had a goal and an assist and Tom Wilson, John Carlson and Brett Connolly also scored goals for Washington, while T.J. Oshie added a pair of primary assists for the Capitals. Braden Holtby finished with 28 saves.
After a lengthy pregame ceremony that featured player introductions by longtime boxing and pro wrestling ring announcer Michael “Let’s Get Ready to Rumble” Buffer, Vegas opened the scoring at the 7:15 mark when Miller rifled a shot from the right point just inside the right post, ending a 166:42 scoreless string by Holtby.
But Washington rebounded to take a 2-1 lead with two goals in the span of 42 seconds. Connolly, parked in the slot with his back to the net, tied it with a between-the-legs deflection of a Michal Kempny shot from the left point that also ricocheted off the skate of Miller inside the left post. Backstrom followed with his fifth goal of the playoffs into the right side of the net off a wraparound pass from Oshie.
It marked the first time the Golden Knights trailed at home in regulation in the playoffs, but it didn’t last long, as Karlsson made it 2-2 less than three minutes later, putting in a shot from the right side of the net off Holtby’s shoulder during a goal-mouth scrum.
Smith, who garnered his 15th assist of the playoffs on Karlsson’s goal, then gave Vegas a 3-2 lead early in the second period when he put in a pass from behind the net by Engelland into the right side of the cage.
Carlson, left alone in the slot, tied the game for the third time at the 8:29 mark off a slick no-look pass from Oshie from the right circle. It was the 17th playoff goal of Carlson’s career, breaking a tie with Kevin Hatcher for most playoff goals by a defenseman in Capitals’ history.
Wilson put the Capitals back in front, 4-3, at 1:10 of the third period when he redirected a shot by Alex Ovechkin past Fleury, who lost sight of the puck after it went between his pads and then knocked it in with the back of his left skate.
But Vegas regained the lead with a pair of goals by its fourth line, the first by Reaves when Kempny failed to clear the puck by the right side of the net, and the second by Nosek, who one-timed a crossing pass from defenseman Shea Theodore into the right corner of the net.
Nosek clinched it with an empty-netter with 2.7 seconds remaining.
“They work hard for us,” Gallant said of his fourth line. “They compete hard for us and it’s really nice to see them get rewarded tonight.”
Game 2 of the best-of-seven series is Wednesday night in Las Vegas.
“I think as a whole we can play a lot better, which is exciting to me,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. “I know we have another level to our game.”
—Field Level Media