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February 22, 2019

Kuznetsov soars as Caps beat Knights to seize 2-1 series lead

Kuznetsov soars as Caps beat Knights to seize 2-1 series lead
'Devante Smith-Pelly (R) of the Washington Capitals scores past Marc-Andre Fleury of the Vegas Golden Knights in game three of the Stanley Cup Final' - By: GETTY/AFP BRUCE BENNETT

Evgeny Kuznetsov delivered a goal and an assist as the Washington Capitals won their first Stanley Cup final home game in franchise history with a 3-1 victory Saturday over the Vegas Golden Knights.

Russian forward Kuznetsov drove down the right wing and fired a snap shot just inside the far post for his 12th goal of the playoffs as the Capitals took a two games to one lead in the best-of-seven NHL championship series.

There was some doubt whether Kuznetsov, who is the leading points scorer in the postseason, would be able to play Saturday night after being injured in the opening period of Wednesday's game two.

"Like Michael Jordan, when he play his best game he got hurt, he got 53 points ... I mean like when you're hurt, you play a little better always," said Kuznetsov, who celebrated his second period goal by doing a chicken dance.

He put on an impressive performance in what could be a turning point for the Capitals in these playoffs. That's because they finally looked confident and comfortable at home as they came into game three with a disappointing 4-5 record on home ice.

Wins have been so hard to come by for the Capitals in their own building that Kuznetsov said after game two that he "feels bad for the fans" and "dreams" of playing on the road.

Not anymore, as Alex Ovechkin, with his 14th goal, and Devante Smith-Pelly also scored for the Capitals who were swept in four straight games by the Detroit Red Wings in their only other finals appearance in 1998.

Czech forward Tomas Nosek scored the lone goal for the Golden Knights, who are enjoying a storybook inaugural season in the NHL.

But after a scoreless first period, Vegas appeared to run out of gas in the second and now are in the position of having to win on the road on Monday in order to prevent the Capitals from taking a stranglehold 3-1 series lead.

History appears to be on Washington's side. When the championship series has been tied 1-1, the winner of game three has won the Stanley Cup 78 percent of the time.

Ovechkin, of Russia, opened the scoring early in the second period as he lunged around a Knights defenceman Brayden McNabb and chipped the puck up high into the net.

- 'Poetic justice' -

"I thought it was sort of the right thing that in a playoff game and the first victory in the finals that Alex would score the first goal. It was sort of poetic justice for all the tough times," said Capitals coach Barry Trotz.

Smith-Pelly scored the clincher with the just over six minutes left in the third. Forward Jay Beagle stripped the puck from Vegas defenceman Shea Theodore in the corner then passed to Smith-Pelly who waited and then lifted a shot over the glove of goalie Marc-Andre Fleury to make it 3-1.

Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby stopped 21 shots as his only blemish of the night came on the Vegas' goal. Holtby got the puck behind his net and then accidently passed it out front to Nosek who had a wide open net to shoot at.

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