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The Narrative: De-Fense, Be-Kuz It’s the Cup, and Game 6 Beagle

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Three things we’re talking about today when we’re talking about the Caps

2018 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Three Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

1. The Caps put together one of their better defensive performances of the Spring last night, en route to a 3-1 Game 3 win (in which the Knights’ only tally came as a direct result of the Caps’... uh... benevolence). Despite playing nearly two-thirds of Game 3 with a lead (and nearly 17 minutes with a two-goal lead), Washington limited Vegas to its third-lowest shot total of the playoffs (22; twice they mustered just 21), down more than ten from their previous per-game average of 31.2. When the Caps took a 2-0 lead at 12:50 of the second period, Vegas had put all of nine shots on Braden Holtby (three of which came in two-second flurry on an early power play). You get the point.

Key to that result was only committing two penalties (both on Devante Smith-Pelly, who would later redeem himself), and blocking 26 shots, the Caps’ second-highest total of the playoffs (Game 2 against Pittsburgh). Of course, you can’t block a lot of shots unless your opponent has the puck enough to take a lot of shots. Still, when everyone’s getting in on the act, you’ve got the makings of a heck of a defensive effort:

What does a stifling defensive performance like that look like? It looks like this:

The Caps turned in their worst defensive effort of the postseason in Game 1, and there were clear adjustments that needed to be made to slow down the Golden Knights’ attack. If Game 3 is any indication, it’s mission accomplished on that front.

Braden Holtby was terrific in Game 3 (except for when he wasn’t), but a lot of the credit for that goes to the 18 skaters in front of him. This is how it’s supposed to look.

2. Evgeny Kuznetsov left Game 2 in agony, cradling his wrist (?), after getting crunched along the boards by Brayden McNabb. Kuznetsov didn’t return to that game, and his status for the rest of the series, much less the next game, was seemingly very much up in the air.

Well, guess what. He played Game 3... and was awesome.

Kuznetsov assisted on Alex Ovechkin’s goal that opened the scoring early in the second period, then scored the eventual game-winner midway through the frame. The Caps out-shot (on-goal) the Knights 10-2 with Kuznetsov on the ice at five-on-five, and had six of the eight high-danger chances in that scenario.

Yup.

3. Jay Beagle had a couple of assists in Game 6 of the Caps’ first round series against Columbus (which was roughly a thousand years ago), added another in Game 6 of the Pens series (a hundred years ago) and a fourth in Game 6 of the Lightning series (ten years ago). Someone must have told the fourth-line pivot that last night was Game 6, because he stepped up and produced another pair of primary helpers.

First, Beagle read a breakout perfectly, got the puck to Kuznetsov to lead an odd-man rush, and Kuzy did the rest:

Then, Beagle hounded Vegas blueliner Shea Theodore, stole the puck, and fed a perfect pass to Smith-Pelly to ice the game:

The Caps are getting scoring from their big guns complemented by seemingly random contributions from depth players, great goaltending and solid team defense... at exactly the right time.