For just the second time in the 2018 Stanley Cup playoffs, the expansion Vegas Golden Knights trail in a series.
They desperately need a win Monday in Washington, which has a two-games-to-one lead in the Finals.
“I think we’ve got to have some poise, settle down a little bit and get back to what’s made us successful. We just haven’t gotten there,” Vegas right winger James Neal said after Saturday’s 3-1 loss in Washington. “That’s them doing a good job, for sure, but at the same time, we’ve got to get better each game, and we just haven’t.”
Vegas has lost two straight for the first time in almost two months.
The Golden Knights had just 22 shots on goal Saturday; they had 26 shots blocked.
“We didn’t get enough second and third chances,” coach Gerard Gallant said.
Left winger Ryan Reaves said the Knights need to “get away from the cute game and get back to the grind.”
That won’t be easy because the physical Caps are winning more board battles, and they outworked the Golden Knights in Game 3 and controlled the flow by winning 62.9 percent of the faceoffs.
No one worked harder than superstar left winger Alex Ovechkin, who snapped a scoreless tie by depositing a rebound early in the second period, giving the Capitals a lead they would never relinquish. Ovechkin, no longer just a one-way player, also did an admirable job backchecking and blocking shots.
“The last couple games, he’s set the tone,” Washington coach Barry Trotz said.
Ovechkin is the favorite to win the Conn Smythe Trophy, awarded to the best playoff performer, if Washington captures its first Stanley Cup.
The Caps’ captain has 14 goals in this year’s playoffs, matching Winnipeg’s Mark Scheifele for the most in the league and also tying John Druce’s single-year franchise record set in 1990.
Only one NHL player since 1997 has scored more goals in a single postseason: Sidney Crosby had 15 in 2009 while leading Pittsburgh to the Stanley Cup.
Ovechkin, 32, who has played with unbridled emotion in the playoffs, downplayed where the Caps stand.
“The city is excited, the fans are excited, but it’s only two [wins],” said Ovechkin, now in his 13th season with the Caps.
“We’re just putting our head down and focusing on Game 4 to keep working toward that big goal,” said Washington goalie Braden Holtby, who was terrific Saturday.
As for Vegas, it trailed in a playoff series just one other time — after it lost Game 1 against Winnipeg in the Western Conference finals. The Knights then won the next four games.
“We still have a lot of minutes to be played, a lot of minutes,” said Marc-Andre Fleury, the unflappable goalie who kept the Knights in Game 3 with 23 saves, including a handful of acrobatic ones. “We’ve got a lot of time to put ourselves back in the series.”
A loss on Monday, however, would put the Knights’ stunningly successful season on the verge of ending.