Cheap Vegas Golden Knights Jerseys

The Vegas Golden Knights moved three wins away from capturing the Stanley Cup in their inaugural season with a 6-4 win in Game 1 of the Final against the Washington Capitals.

Here are five things we learned about this series after the opening game, besides the fact that every playoff series should have a Michael Buffer introduction.

Rust and nerves

After looking like well-oiled machines in closing out their respective conference finals, the Capitals and Golden Knights looked like two race cars speeding downhill with the brakes cut. The pace was electric, the mistakes were plentiful. This is what playoff hockey looks like when the home team had eight days and the road team had five days between games.

But there was another factor at play for the Capitals: nerves. Coach Barry Trotz said the combination of final-round intensity and the incredible atmosphere at T-Mobile Arena adversely affected his players. (The night began with five interlopers wearing Capitals flags taking a CGI fireball from an actual trebuchet. Yes, Vegas is a different kind of experience.)

Alex Ovechkin agreed that the Game 1 experience was nerve-wracking, and that the Capitals needed one game to find their footing against an unfamiliar opponent.

“I think next game is going to be different. All the nervousness is over. All the bad things go away in this game,” said Ovechkin, who had two shots on goal and one assist in the game.

Can’t take a breath

The relentless nature of the Golden Knights’ offensive attack was on display in Game 1. Vegas scored four of its five goals — before Tomas Nosek’s empty-netter — from point-blank range against Braden Holtby (28 saves). The Capitals were atrocious below the goal line, and the Knights preyed on that.

“It’s a lesson we have to get better at. You can’t take a breath when the puck’s around the net with them. That’s the game plan. That’s one of their strengths,” said Holtby.

Despite the presence of knights and castles, there’s no mysticism here. Vegas plays a simple, tenacious game. The Capitals couldn’t match that effort.

“It’s not really magical play we’re doing. It’s nothing like a crazy recipe. We’re just trying to outwork who we’re playing against, and tonight we got rewarded,” said Vegas forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare.

Rewarded with Capitals mistakes that led to goals.

“Vegas is good. They’re a fast team and we know that. They’re going to put some pressure on us. But overall I thought we were a little sloppy with the puck. We didn’t make the plays that we usually do. I think we can play a little quicker, more north. That’s what we’ve got to do,” said center Nicklas Backstrom.

The refs were a factor

Golden Knights fans -- including several dressed as Elvis -- were happy with Ryan Reaves' third-period goal, but should a penalty have been called on Reaves prior to the score?

It’s undeniable that the officiating failed on two key moments of Game 1.

Ryan Reaves got away with an egregious cross-check on Capitals defenseman John Carlson before he scored his third-period goal on the doorstep against Holtby.

“I didn’t like their fourth goal. I thought we were going on the power play there,” said Trotz.

That moment ratcheted up the physical play in Game 1, and led to this Tom Wilson hit on Jonathan Marchessault in the third period: a jarring check behind the play, after Marchessault had played the puck.

“He’d probably say he shouldn’t admire his pass,” said Wilson. “I’m just finishing my check. I haven’t slowed it down. I’ve been told that we’re talking tenths [of a second] here. I think it’s game speed and I delivered it in good time. I think he let up a little bit because he wasn’t aware I was there. I finished him through his body. He might have been a little bit surprised by it, but it wasn’t an aggressive hit. He looked fine at the end when he was yelling at me from the bench.”

There were four minor penalties called in Game 1, including a too many men on the ice penalty when the Knights had seven skaters. It was a passive, “let them play” night of officiating that gave Vegas a goal it didn’t deserve and kept the Knights from getting a five-minute major penalty they probably did deserve after the Wilson hit. We’ll see if things change for Game 2.

Heat warning

News flash: This game was played in a desert. So while mushy ice is already a hallmark for Stanley Cup playoffs games played in the weeks before the summer, the conditions were even more specious in Game 1.

“It’s pretty warm out. The heat outside, the number of bodies in here. You can’t expect to have the ice be fantastic at this time of year,” said Trotz.

This was another part of the adjustment for the Capitals, according to Holtby. “We have to adjust to the ice conditions. You can’t get too fancy with the puck bouncing. They feed on that,” he said.

Ovechkin, however, said any gripes about ice conditions should be immaterial.

“It doesn’t matter. Ice, sticks, skates. It can’t be a problem,” he said.

The bottom six

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The bottom line is that the bottom lines were better for the Golden Knights than they were for the Capitals.

“You’ve gotta have depth in the finals. You want it all year, but especially right now,” said Reaves, whose unassisted goal in the third to tie the game at 4-4 was a critical moment.

Reaves noted that the Marchessault line was tasked with playing against Ovechkin’s, so everyone else had to contribute. “Our top line’s been scoring for us, but they’re shutting down a good line over there, so every line has to chip in,” he said.

The Knights’ fourth line of Reaves, Bellemare and Tomas Nosek produced both the go-ahead goal at 9:44 of the third and the clinching empty-netter at 19:57, both scored by Nosek.

“Obviously we’re not the line you’re going to expect the goals [from] every night, but we’ve been trying to create momentum and work, and that’s what we’ve been saying all year long. Build, build, build. Create momentum for your team. And one time, maybe it won’t happen every game, but it’s fun to be able to help offensively,” said Bellemare.

That total team effort was missing for the Capitals outside of Brett Connolly’s goal in the first period. The Knights had more tenacity, more push and more contributions from each line. In the end, they had something else, too: the Game 1 victory.

Cheap Washington Capitals Jerseys

One day after Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson was suspended, teammate T.J. Oshie on Thursday said Wilson has been unfairly “taken away” by the NHL.

Wilson was given a three-game suspension after hitting Pittsburgh Penguins forward Zach Aston-Reese in the head during the Capitals’ 4-3 win in Game 3 of their second-round playoff series Tuesday night. Aston-Reese suffered a broken jaw and concussion.

“The discipline? I think it’s pretty extreme. I think it’s very extreme, actually,” Oshie said. “It’s two guys that see each other. They both go to hit each other, and usually one guy loses that battle. I’ve been on both ends of it.

“I think for sure — and I want to get this point across — you never want to see a guy break his jaw and leave a game like that. I don’t know what the concussion status is, but I’ve had that before, and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. I agree with [penalizing] the stupid hits, the unnecessary hits. But this is playoff time. It’s man vs. man. If one guy falls down, that’s just the way it goes.”

Other Capitals players also disagreed with the three-game ban, which was handed down by the NHL Department of Player Safety.

“Yeah, very [surprised],” said Devante Smith-Pelly, who will replace Wilson on the Capitals’ top line alongside captain Alex Ovechkin. “… The night it happened, the league called and said it was fine. Shoulder-to-shoulder. We wake up the next day and see a hearing.

“It is what it is. … I could go on all day, but it is what it is. We just have to move on. Next guy up.”

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan called for the NHL to take action against Wilson, who had taken out Penguins players with hits that involved the head in consecutive games. His hit on the Penguins’ Brian Dumoulin forced the defenseman to exit Game 2 early in the second period. Dumoulin returned to the lineup for Game 3.

Capitals coach Barry Trotz called it “a hard hockey hit” in defending Wilson: “Shoulder-on-shoulder,” he said. ” Both guys braced for it.”

Capitals players and coaches are unhappy with the NHL after Tom Wilson was suspended for three games for a hit to the Penguins' Zach Aston-Reese, which resulted in a broken jaw. Said Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik: "The boys are fired up [for Game 4]."

The NHL sent out mixed signals on the hit after Game 3. Paul Devorski, the NHL on-site supervisor of officials, told the media that game officials consulted with one another about the hit and decided not to penalize Wilson.

“They all got together,” said Devorski, “and they said, ‘You know what, we’ve got a good, clean check here.'”

That word reached the Capitals, but the NHL Department of Player Safety, which is in charge of supplemental discipline, had another camera angle that showed Wilson making Aston-Reese’s head the main point of contact. It also felt Wilson hit with a “lifting” motion.

The nature of the hit, the severity of the injury and the fact that Wilson was twice suspended during the 2017-18 preseason resulted in the three-game ban.

Oshie said Aston-Reese needed to be more aware that Wilson was approaching.

“Generally, if I’m out against a heavier guy on the other team, I know that if I get the puck in this situation, I know where he is on the ice,” Oshie said. “I think that’s part of playing in the NHL. That’s part of being a mature, aware player. I think we have too many guys in the league now that think they can just go out and do what they want and if anybody touches them it’s going to be a penalty or suspension.

“I 100 percent agree with [penalizing] the hits to the head that are unnecessary, are directly targeted and you can tell they’re targeted. But I’m completely against taking away physicality from the game. Everyone talks about the game getting faster, stronger. Well, the hits are going to get faster and stronger. Tom is one of the best at it. And he gets punished for it sometimes because people are unaware, and then other times just because he’s stronger than other people.”

Oshie also pushed back at the Penguins players who felt the hit was unnecessary.

“I’d like for them to watch the hit. I’d like for them to break it down to me,” he said. “From what we see, it’s two guys that see each other. It’s a north/south hit. Tom goes straight through his body.

“Yes, his head gets hit. But there’s been a million times when I’ve gotten hit, I go to the ref, I say I was hit in the head, and the ref just says, ‘He’s bigger than you.’ That’s the way it goes. I’ve gotten blown up a couple times this year, and I didn’t complain about it.”

Wilson had been an integral part of the Capitals’ top line in this series, more than just offensively — as shown by his interference on Olli Maatta, which sprung Ovechkin for his game-winning goal in Game 3.

“He does a lot of good things for us,” Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik said. “It’s unfortunate that people classify him a certain way because of a hit that went maybe an inch wrong. Everybody in here has a lot of respect for Tom as a player and as a person.”

Oshie said Wilson’s suspension will be a rallying cry for the Capitals as they enter Game 4 with a 2-1 series lead.

“The boys are fired up,” Oshie said. “We had a sense of confidence. I think any arrogance that we might have had from our last couple of victories has been squashed. The fact that we’re losing Tom, that he’s been taken away for a couple games here, we’re fired up to play, and we want to win the game for him.”