LAS VEGAS—A goal from the most unlikely source and a jaw-dropping save has the Washington Capitals back on even terms in the Stanley Cup final.
Brooks Orpik scored for the first time in 220 games while Braden Holtby made 37 stops, including a miraculous effort with two minutes to go, as the Capitals edged the Vegas Golden Knights 3-2 last night to level the best-of-seven series at 1-1.
“A couple of bounces didn't go our way last game,” said Holtby, whose team fell 6-4 in Monday night's opener.
“We knew if we just stuck with it, did the right things, something would go our way.”
What went their way was Orpik, a veteran defenceman whose last goal came on Feb. 16, 2016, scoring what turned out to be the winner before Holtby robbed Alex Tuch with a desperation paddle save after the puck took a weird bounce off the glass.
“To me, it was the Hockey Gods,” Washington head coach Barry Trotz said.
“Save of the year. Maybe the save of a lifetime,” Capitals' forward Jay Beagle added.
Bumped up to the second line after No. 1 centre Evgeny Kuznetsov left with an upper-body injury in the first period, Lars Eller had a goal and two assists while Alex Ovechkin also scored.
Andre Burakovsky chipped in with two assists of his own as the Capitals won their first-ever game in a Stanley Cup final.
James Neal and Shea Theodore replied for the expansion Knights.
Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 23 shots in taking the loss.
The series now switches to Washington for Game 3 on Saturday and Game 4 on Monday.
Game 5 will be back in Vegas next Thursday.
With temperatures soaring as high as 37 C in the hours leading up to the late-afternoon puck drop at T-Mobile Arena, the Capitals put in a much better effort on the heels of Monday's sloppy performance from both teams.
“We did a good job all around on a lot of areas," Trotz said. ”We cleaned a few things.
“There's some areas that we've still go to adjust but it was a step forward.”
After killing off a penalty early in the second period, Washington pushed ahead on a power play of its own at 5:38 when Ovechkin scored his 13th goal of the playoffs from a tight angle thanks to Eller's slick cross-ice pass.
Eller then set up Orpik, who last scored in the post-season all the way back in April, 2014, on a shot that struck the leg of Vegas forward Cody Eakin and bounced past Fleury at 9:41 to make it 3-1.
“'Brooksy' doesn't score a lot of goals but that was a huge one,” Eller said of the 37-year-old blueliner.
“To have success in the playoffs, you need every single guy chipping in,” he stressed.
Orpik wasn't available to the media after the game because he was getting stitches from the Capitals' medical staff.
“He's old-school," said Washington forward T.J. Oshie. ”To see him get rewarded with a goal at a big time, it makes me feel good.
“I imagine he feels great.”
The Knights entered the game with a 7-1 home record in the post-season—outscoring opponents by 31-16 in the process—and made it 3-2 with 2:13 left in the second when Theodore scored his third on a seeing-eye snapshot from the point through traffic on a power play.
Vegas got a 5-on-3 man advantage for 1:09 when Tom Wilson took an interference penalty and Eller was whistled for hooking early in the third.
But Holtby, who allowed five goals on 33 shots in Game 1 after posting back-to-back shutouts to close out the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference final, managed to hold the fort.
“We had good looks,” said Knights' forward Jonathan Marchessault.
“We just need to be more selfish and shoot the puck," he noted. "The plays were there.”
Holtby then made that diving paddle stop on Tuch that will be replayed over and over.
“Thank God he's our goalie,” Ovechkin said.
“I've got to bury that,” Tuch lamented.
The Knights continued to push and pulled Fleury for an extra attacker, but Holtby and the Capitals kept them off the scoreboard the rest of the way to knot the series and wrestle away home-ice advantage.