WASHINGTON (AP) — The Vegas Golden Knights have been bucking history all season, and now they will have to do again to win the Stanley Cup.
Vegas made too many mistakes in its own end of the ice and scored just one gift-wrapped goal Saturday night in a 3-1 loss to the Washington Capitals, who never trailed in taking a 2-1 lead in the best-of-7 series.
There were missed assignments, botched passes and only 22 shots on goal. The Golden Knights hardly looked like the team that lost only three games in the three series that earned them the title of Western Conference champions.
After becoming only the third NHL team to win multiple playoff series in its inaugural season, Vegas charged into the Final looking to extend its unprecedented run of success. Vegas won a wild opener 6-4, then lost home-ice advantage with a 3-2 loss on Wednesday.
The Golden Knights’ downturn continued in Game 3, when they too often let goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury contend for himself and failed to mount much of a threat against Braden Holtby on the other end.
As a result, Vegas has lost two straight for the first time since early April, when it dropped the final two meaningless games of the regular season. The Golden Knights are struggling to put the puck in the net, and now trail in a playoff series after three games for the first time.
Vegas still has a chance to become the first expansion team to win the Stanley Cup. But when the Final is tied at one game apiece, the winner of Game 3 ultimately has gone on to capture the Cup 78 percent of the time (21 of 27) since the series went to the best-of-seven format in 1939.
Coming into this series, Vegas was 12-3 in the postseason. The only deficit the Golden Knights faced was in the Western Conference finals, when they lost the opener to Winnipeg before rattling off four straight wins.
In this one, the Golden Knights trailed 2-0 before taking advantage of a huge mistake by Holtby for their only goal.
After the goaltender did a poor job of clearing the puck from behind the Capitals net, Tomas Nosek easily scored to slice Washington’s lead to 2-1 at 3:29 of the third period.
But the Capitals restored the two-goal cushion when Washington’s Jay Beagle outworked Shea Theodore of the Golden Knights in the corner, gained possession of the puck and sent a centering pass that Devante Smith-Pelly slammed into the net at 13:53.