In the world capital of entertainment, Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals in Vegas went far beyond the value of any other ticket you could buy in town. With a 6-4 win over the Capitals, the Vegas Golden Knights weathered the lows, provided some ecstatic highs, and pulled out a dramatic victory on home ice in the first-ever Finals game of their first-ever season.
While the now-signature Vegas pre-game show, especially with Michael Buffer’s introductions tacked on to the end, felt a lot shaggier than previous incarnations, its unapologetic desire for anything-goes fun fit well with the rest of the night, a back-and-forth thrill ride of a game whose drama came from a constant stream of surprises and game-changing moments. With the outcome in doubt until the final seconds, and multiple unlikely heroes, this was an absolutely perfect start to a championship series.
The first period saw four goals split evenly between the two teams, with the Golden Knights facing a (short-lived) deficit for the first time since Game 1 in Winnipeg. After Colin Miller’s opener slipped by a blinded Braden Holtby, and Brett Connolly deflected a shot past Fleury, it was a soft backhand finish from Nick Backstrom that gave the Caps a 2-1 lead.
... a lead that the Capitals quickly lost due to a Wild Bill Karlsson goal off Holtby’s shoulder.
Neither side could separate themselves in the second, either. Reilly Smith finished an easy opportunity at point-blank range, but John Carlson guided in a gorgeous goal off a no-look T.J. Oshie pass five minutes later to knot the game at three-all.
It made sense, heading into the third, that the difference-maker in such an even game would be a weird bit of luck going one way or the other, and that’s what the Capitals got just a minute into the final period. An early Capitals attack led to a goal credited to Tom Wilson, when Marc-Andre Fleury unknowingly backheeled the puck into his own net.
But as they did regularly in the Jets series, the Knights took a potentially crushing momentum swing and almost immediately neutralized it, this time with a determined Ryan Reaves goal (and maybe an uncalled cross-check) a minute and a half after the Wilson score to tie it back up at 4-4.
The Vegas crowd found their villain shortly after the Reaves goal, as a brutal hit from Tom Wilson briefly sent Jonathan Marchessault to the locker room but was only penalized as a minor and got offset by a David Perron cross-check. The infamous Capitals enforcer couldn’t knock the Knights off their rhythm, however, and the game-winning goal came just a few minutes later. With 10 minutes gone in the third, Tomas Nosek one-timed a perfect Shea Theodore* cross-ice pass for an unstoppable score—5-4, Knights.
The lead did not feel safe at all for the final 10 minutes—how could it possibly?—but Fleury and Vegas kept their heads in the final moments against a full-on Washington onslaught to see out the victory. An empty-netter from Nosek settled the nerves with 2.7 seconds remaining, but if Game 1 is any indication, it’ll be a long while before either team feels calm again.
*Correction (5/29, 12:55 p.m.): The article originally said that David Perron got the assist on Nosek’s game-winner, when he actually got the assist on the empty-netter.