WASHINGTON — Alex Ovechkin scored the 60th playoff goal of his career as the Washington Capitals defeated the expansion Vegas Golden Knights 3-1 on Saturday to take a 2-1 lead in the Stanley Cup final.
Evgeny Kuznetsov, an injury question mark until just before the opening faceoff, added a goal and an assist for Washington, which won its first-ever game on home ice in the final to move two victories from its first Cup.
Devante Smith-Pelly also scored for the Capitals, who got 21 saves from Braden Holtby. Jay Beagle added two assists.
Stefan Nosek replied for Vegas. Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 23 shots for the Knights, who lost back-to-back games for the first time in the playoffs.
Game 4 of the best-of-seven series goes Monday at Capital One Arena.
The Capitals, who last played at home in the final on June 16, 1998, when the Detroit Red Wings won 4-1 to complete a four-game sweep in Washington’s only other Cup appearance, took the lead 1:10 into the second period off a wild scramble in front.
Fleury made three great saves before Ovechkin leapt over fallen Vegas defenceman Brayden McNabb and backhanded his 14th goal of the playoffs to tie John Druce’s franchise record for a single post-season set in 1990.
Washington, which was just 4-5 at home in the playoffs coming into Saturday, then went up 2-0 at 12:50 when Kuznetsov moved in on a 2-on-1 after a bad pinch by Vegas defenceman Shea Theordore and chimed a shot in off the far post past Fleury for his 12th before breaking out his flying bird celebration.
Kuznetsov, who leads the NHL in playoff scoring with 27 points, took a big hit from McNabb in the first period of Washington’s 3-2 road victory in Game 2 and left favouring his left arm.
But the Russian centre practised Friday, participated in Saturday’s morning skate and took part in the pre-game warmup before declaring himself fit to play.
In between the goals, both teams had a number of great chances.
Vegas, which entered with a 13-4 record in the playoffs and a 6-2 road mark, had three opportunities to it tie right after Ovechkin’s opener, with Holtby stopping Jonathan Marchessault after he stepped around Dmitry Orlov.
Washington’s T.J. Oshie then failed to connect on a wide-open net while getting bothered by Luca Sbisa before hitting the post on a deflection on a Capitals’ power play.
Fleury flashed the glove to make a hockey-card calibre stop on Ovechkin, but could do nothing on Kuznetsov’s shot off the post.
Holtby, who robbed Knights forward Alex Tuch on an incredible stick save with under two minutes to go in Game 2, gifted the Knights a lifeline 3:29 into the third when he inexplicably played a puck from behind his own net up the middle.
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare got a stick on it before it fell to Nosek, who scored his fourth into the empty net.
But the Capitals put the game out of reach at 13:53 when Theodore turned the puck over in his own zone to Beagle, who fed Smith-Pelly in front for his fifth.
After the scorching, dry heat of Vegas wreaked havoc with ice conditions in Games 1 and 2, the humidity in the U.S. capital also caused problems Saturday.
After the Knights had famed ring announcer Michael Buffer read out the starting lineups to open the series, Capitals season-ticket holder and “Wheel of Fortune” host Pat Sajak did the same in Game 3.
Fleury stretched to make a great glove stop on Ovechkin after a beautiful saucer pass from Kuznetsov on an early 2-on-1 as the Capitals came out flying on home ice.
Washington appeared to go ahead about five minutes in, but Chandler Stephenson’s goal was immediately waved off after Smith-Pelly went too far in his attempt screen of Fleury, jumping into the netminder and sending him tumbling to the ice.
Smith-Pelly was whistled for goaltender interference, and Vegas finally got going on the power play before Reilly Smith hit the post shortside on Holtby after the teams were back to 5 on 5.
Smith then took a penalty that Vegas killed off, with Marchessault hitting the same post for the Knights moments later as the teams headed to the locker rooms scoreless after a period where the Capitals blocked 15 shots.
Notes: Ovechkin is the 34th player in NHL history to score at least 60 playoff goals. Patrick Marleau, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are the only other active players to have reached the milestone … Sting and Shaggy, who recently collaborated on a new album, performed a pre-game concert outside the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. … Game 5 is set for Vegas on Thursday. Game 6, if necessary, would be played back in Washington on Sunday, June 10.
Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press