Capitals go up 2-1 in Stanley Cup final

Evgeny Kuznetsov celebrates his second-period goal with his bird move after giving the Capitals a 2-0 lead. (Getty Images)
Evgeny Kuznetsov celebrates his second-period goal with his bird move after giving the Capitals a 2-0 lead. (Getty Images)
Published June 2 2018

WASHINGTON — Alex Ovechkin went airborne, Evgeny Kuznetsov flapped his arms like a bird of prey and the Capitals are flying high,two wins from winning the Stanley Cup.

Led by their two best players, the Capitals beat the  Golden Knights 3-1 Saturday night to take a 2-1 lead in the Stanley Cup final.

Ovechkin dived to score his 14th goal of the playoffs, and Kuznetsov beat Marc-Andre Fleury and broke out his signature bird celebration in the second period for a 2-0 lead.

Fired up in the first Cup final game in Washington since 1998, the Capitals unloaded chance after chance on Fleury, who made 23 saves but couldn't backstop a frazzled, disjointed team that lost two games in a row for the first time in the playoffs.

At the other end, Braden Holtby gifted Tomas Nosek a goal by giving the puck away from behind his net, but he stopped the other 21 shots he faced from the Golden Knights, who looked nothing like the winners of 13 of their first 16 playoff games through the first three rounds.

Holtby was there when the Capitals needed him, but they didn't need him much because they were on the attack for much of the game. Fleury stopped Ovechkin on a 2-on-1 rush early, and the superstar captain was at his best early.

In his first home Cup final game, Ovechkin attempted eight shots in the first period and scored 1:10 into the second period when he went full extension over Vegas defenseman Brayden McNabb to reach the rebound and backhanded the puck past Fleury.

Ovechkin's 14th goal of the playoffs matched John Druce's franchise record set in 1990 and tied him for the league lead in these playoffs.

Kuznetsov showed his injured left arm is  fine by scoring on a perfect wrist shot on an odd-man rush.

Capitals fans who have watched heartbreak after playoff heartbreak easily could've been thinking the worst when Vegas scored early in the third period. Holtby had his puck-handling attempt intercepted by Vegas' Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. The puck skittered to Nosek for an easy goal.

Vegas built some momentum, but Devante Smith-Pelly gave the Capitals an insurance goal with 6:07 left — his fourth of the playoffs — after Jay Beagle took the puck away from Shea Theodore on the forecheck and found his teammate skating in alone on Fleury.

"I've always loved the playoffs," Smith-Pelly said. "I love scoring the big goals. I don't know what it is, but these kinds of games are the most fun to play in."

With around five minutes gone in the first period, Washington had a goal wiped out when Smith-Pelly was called for goaltender interference when he collided with Fleury as a shot found the net.