Capitals move to brink of maiden Stanley Cup triumph

(Reuters) - The Washington Capitals moved one win away from their first Stanley Cup championship with a 6-2 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights on Monday.

Jun 4, 2018; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby (70) celebrates with Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8) after their game against the Vegas Golden Knights in game four of the 2018 Stanley Cup Final at Capital One Arena. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The win over the Golden Knights, who are in their inaugural season, gave Washington a 3-1 lead in the National Hockey League’s best-of-seven championship series, which resumes in Las Vegas on Thursday.

The Capitals withstood a furious start by Vegas, who botched a pair of glorious early scoring opportunities, before pulling away with first-period goals from T.J. Oshie, Tom Wilson and Devante Smith-Pelly.

“One win away; it’s the hardest one,” said Alex Ovechkin, who is trying to become the first Russian player to captain a Stanley Cup champion.

“We knew this game was very important for us. Obviously we have a little bit of luck on our side, they hit the post. But we just grinded it out, we use our chances, stick to the system, stick to the plan, and we get the result.”

Vegas almost opened the scoring but sent one shot off the side of the net, while another hit the post with Capitals goalie Braden Holtby out of position on both efforts.

The Capitals made no such mistake when their first big chance presented itself on the power-play with Oshie burying a rebound of an Evgeny Kuznetsov shot past Vegas goalie Marc-Andre Fleury nearly 10 minutes into the opening period.

Washington struck again seven minutes later when Kuznetsov got the puck to a wide open Wilson, who quickly wristed a shot under Fleury’s glove from in close.

With the red-clad crowd still on their feet, Smith-Pelly delivered a knockout punch when he pounced on a loose puck to the left of Fleury and roofed it with 21 seconds remaining in the first period.

“We’re in a good position now but I think tonight we’re going to really look at this because there are some areas where we got a little lucky at times, especially at the start,” said Holtby, who made 28 saves.

“We want to clean those up to keep improving because we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, we want to keep pushing forward.”

Kuznetsov, who finished with four assists, picked up his third of the night on John Carlson’s power-play goal late in the second period that all but sealed the victory.

Vegas responded with third-period goals from James Neal and Reilly Smith, the latter coming with seven-and-a-half minutes remaining, but the Capitals pulled clear again when Michal Kempny and Brett Connolly both found the net.

The Golden Knights, after losing just three games combined in the first three rounds of the playoffs, have suddenly lost three in a row.

The only team in NHL history to overcome a 3-1 deficit in a final was the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs.

Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by John O’Brien/Peter Rutherford