Trending Topics: A Stanley Cup Final in chaos

Late in the game on the NBC broadcast, they said no Stanley Cup Final game had ever featured as many lead changes as the four last night.

In case you’ve forgotten, they’ve been playing Cup finals for a long, long time. But watching that game, and indeed these entire playoffs, why would you expect anything other than something dumbly historic.

A not-great Caps team finally getting here. An expansion team joining them, and then winning a wild game. And boy if the nuttiness didn’t start early.

No one had scored a goal in the first period in Vegas in the entire playoff run.

And grated that’s not a lot of games because the Golden Knights have closed out series pretty quick. Two against L.A., three against San Jose, two more against Winnipeg. Still, 140 minutes to start games without allowing a goal? That’s pretty good, and it certainly sets you up for success. Especially because the Vegas skaters also scored 10, and at least one in each game.

The thing you absolutely don’t want to do against a Vegas team that seemingly can’t avoid scoring first is take a huge dumbass penalty in the first period.

And yet, Andre Burakovsky said to himself, “I’m gonna be the idiot that does that, actually.” A dumb hitting from behind penalty 185 feet from his own net, led to a Vegas power play and well, we all knew how that was gonna go.

Ryan Reaves was a difference-maker for the Golden Knights in Game 1. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/NHLI via Getty Images)
Ryan Reaves was a difference-maker for the Golden Knights in Game 1. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/NHLI via Getty Images)

Colin Wilson’s goal on the ensuing power play was a fair accompli, and it was understandable if everyone felt the result of the game after it was scored.

Not that Washington looked particularly good in the early going, giving up a bunch of shot attempts and getting only a few of their own at the other end. But they were at least keeping those shots from being in dangerous areas and apart from a long, impressive shift from the Vegas top line immediately before that penalty, there wasn’t much to trouble Braden Holtby.

Indeed, Holtby still hadn’t given up a goal on a shot he saw in 130 minutes or so. He didn’t even react to that short Colin Miller slapper because of traffic in front of the net before it was almost past him, but again, once you give Vegas an inch at T-Mobile Arena, they seem more than content to take a yard.

And then Washington scored not once but twice. In just 42 seconds. This was not the normal order of things. The Capitals certainly seemed stymied by the pace with which Vegas plays — and hell, it’s jarring even watching it again after a week-plus layoff — because everything is so, so quick. But once they figured it out, and they sure seemed to. All of a sudden they were around the net, getting pucks deep, all that stuff. Maybe it’s a function of Washington’s depth (perfectly fine) being able to get to Vegas’s depth (not great). Either way, things all of a sudden seemed like they were heading for some serious Fleury-related regression.

Ahhh, but you’ll never guess who came through at 5-on-5 again. Yeah, Wild Bill Karlsson and Reilly Smith. Of course. Why not? Karlsson scored the tying goal, Smith the go-ahead.

And then once again, that felt like it, right? The top line coming through twice is the kind of thing that would have crumpled the Kings, sank the Sharks, and jammed up the Jets, but the Caps got another goal through John Carlson and T.J. Oshie. And Fleury got caught guessing very, very wrong.

We’ve frankly not seen anything like this in the postseason. Yes, every Kings-Knights game was one goal but that was Vegas playing in a very not-Vegas way. Few teams were able to keep up with the Golden Knights tempo, but here was Washington — hardly the best or fastest or most competitive team in the playoff field — doing it.

I think most people probably had this as a pretty close series, and for obvious reasons, but the idea that it would be Washington adapting to the Vegas style and making it look good probably didn’t appear on many prediction lists.

Nor did Fleury turning back into, y’know, 2011-12 Fleury by kicking the puck into his own net in the third period of a tie game. But that “Tom Wilson” goal, hoo boy. Nor did the fourth line — through Ryan Reaves and Tomas Nosek — scoring the fourth, fifth, and sixth Vegas goals (Reaves’ coming after he got a verrrrrrrrrrry favorable no-call on a blatant cross-check from a ref who was about 12 feet away). Nor the Capitals totally running the third period despite getting outscored. Nor did Vegas winning despite Fleury not making one big save all night.

Vegas, by the way, is now up to 10 of its 13 Ws — and 16 games overall — being one-goal or one-goal-with-an-empty-netter wins. Because hey, why not?

Maybe the only thing you could have predicted was the NHL’s “best” refs totally screwing up the third period, which they definitely did, both ways. And, I guess, Tom Wilson trying to kill someone a mile away from the puck. Both those things are entirely symptomatic of the stuff that’s still wrong with hockey, even if the rest of that game felt like a marketing gimmick trying to really get even the most cynical of the sought-after casual sports fans invested in the sport.

Which is, I guess, ultimately the point of all this. Why would you expect anything other than an entertaining mess?

This is the sport! It’s that thing of “if you ever go to a game, you’ll love it instantly.” Imagine if this was somehow your first hockey game? Good lord! You probably didn’t even have to be there to breathe in that apparently electric Vegas atmosphere to get hooked on hockey after a night like that.

We’re through the looking glass. Everything’s out the window now. Just let it all go.

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

All stats via Corsica unless otherwise noted.

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