On a night when Washington’s star best player was at his best, the Golden Knights’ best line was unable to respond. The Capitals didn’t let William Karlsson’s line dominate in Game 2 after Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith had two goals and two assists in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. The Knights’ top unit had a pair of assists on Shea Theodore’s power-play goal late in the second period. But they couldn’t solve goaltender Braden Holtby and the Capitals, led by the inspired play of their captain Alex Ovechkin, who evened the best-of-seven series at 1-1 with a 3-2 win Wednesday at T-Mobile Arena.
Game 3 is 5 p.m. Saturday at Capital One Arena in Washington. “We didn’t manage the puck well,” Marchessault said. “We had too many turnovers and they were better than us in the second period. “We did a good job 5-on-5. But it’s on us. We’re not playing our game. As a line, we’re having too many turnovers. When we’re managing the puck and making plays, we make things happen. If we want to have a chance to win we have to be the best line out there and we weren’t that (Wednesday).”
Washington coach Barry Trotz didn’t have the last change as visiting team, but he was able to get better execution against Karlsson’s line Wednesday. “I thought we did a good job all around,” Trotz said. “We cleaned some things up. They’re a very good line and I thought we played better defensively overall.” Gerard Gallant, who did have the last change, wasn’t looking for a certain matchup to help Karlsson’s line gain an edge. He basically threw them out on their next regular shift regardless of who the Capitals had on the ice.
Sometimes it was Nicklas Backstrom’s line. Sometimes it was against Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson, the latter who had taken a run at Marchessault in Game 1 and temporarily knocked him out of the game. But there were no retaliatory hits from Marchessault or his linemates. They left that to Ryan Reaves, who delivered a blow to Wilson’s face after the whistle midway through the second period and drew a roughing penalty for his actions. Gallant said the Capitals deserve credit for their improved play against the Knights’ best line from Game 1 to Game 2.
“We came out and played real well the first 12 minutes of the hockey game and I don’t think we played bad overall,” Gallant said. “We had some chances but Washington did a good job against them.” The line did combine for 14 of the Knights’ 39 shots on Holtby. There were a couple of strong chances, but overall the Capitals didn’t allow Karlsson, Smith and Marchessault to inflict any damage beyond the Theodore power-play goal. Karlsson had gotten the puck to Smith, who fed Theodore at the point, and with Alex Tuch screening Holtby, Theodore’s wrist shot found its way through a tangle of arms and legs.
Ultimately, the key to containing Karlsson and company was clogging the neutral zone, negating their overall speed as a unit and taking away some of the time and space they’re accustomed to creating for themselves. But Marchessault said he and his teammates will bounce back Saturday in Game 3. “We have the right attitude,” Marchessault said. “Tomorrow is a new day. We have to reset and get a win over there.”