WASHINGTON — The Vegas Golden Knights are on the verge of elimination, and they no longer have the puck luck that has contributed to their magical season to this point.
Specifically, the Golden Knights are lamenting a play early in the first period of Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final, which they believe shifted the game — and the series. On the power play in a scoreless first period, veteran winger James Neal faced a wide-open net, and with the puck on his stick, he took a shot with Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby out of position.
The shot pinged off the far post. The Capitals went on to score three first-period goals en route to a 6-2 win that gave them a commanding 3-1 series lead.
“Man, you want those chances,” Neal said. “Nine times out of 10, you probably put that in the back of the net. It’s like, I had the composure to wait, and then you shoot it, and you’re like, ‘oh,’ and the way it hit the post and still came out, I mean it’s … I don’t know, it’s tough. It’s not like anyone made a save. I shot it off the post on the far side.”
Neal then added: “It changes the game for sure if I score there, but no feeling sorry for yourself.”
Several Golden Knights players said Game 4 was arguably their best game in the series. But they went 0-for-6 on the power play and have hit seven posts in their past two games.
“Every year, teams get knocked out based on one bounce,” Capitals winger Tom Wilson said.
Said Vegas goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury: “The puck just did not want to come in for us.”
In the second period, a clearly frustrated Neal asked one of the Golden Knights’ equipment managers to rub and kiss his stick for good luck. Neal went on to score early in the third period, but at that point, the damage was done.
The 1942 Detroit Red Wings were the only team to lose the Stanley Cup Final after holding a 3-1 lead.
The series now shifts back to Las Vegas for a critical Game 5.
“It’s the Final,” Vegas forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare said. “Nothing easy is good. We have been in this position before, where people didn’t believe in us, but we believed in ourselves.”