Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press
LAS VEGAS — Lars Eller had a goal and two assists, Braden Holtby made 37 saves, and the Washington Capitals defeated the Vegas Golden Knights 3-2 to even the Stanley Cup final 1-1 on Wednesday night.
Alex Ovechkin also scored for the Capitals, while Andre Burakovsky added two assists.
James Neal and Shea Theodore replied for the expansion Knights. Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 23 shots in taking the loss.
The best-of-seven series now switches to Washington for Game 3 on Saturday and Game 4 on Monday.
Game 5 will be back in Vegas next Thursday.
With temperatures soaring as high as 37 C in the hours leading up to the late-afternoon puck drop at T-Mobile Arena, the Capitals put in a much better effort on the heels of a sloppy performance from both teams in Monday’s chaotic opener that the Knights won 6-4.
After killing off a penalty early in the second period, Washington pushed ahead on a power play of its own at 5:38 when Ovechkin scored his 13th goal of the playoffs from a tight angle thanks to Eller’s slick cross-ice pass.
Eller then set up Orpik, who didn’t have a goal in the regular season and last scored in the playoffs all the way back in April 2014, on a shot that struck the leg of Vegas forward Cody Eakin and bounced past Fleury at 9:41 to make it 3-1.
The Knights entered Monday with a 7-1 home record in the playoffs — outscoring opponents by 31-16 in the process — and got back to within one with 2:13 left when Theodore’s seeing-eye snapshot from the point on a power play found its way through traffic with T.J. Oshie in the box for ill-advised cross-checking penalty.
Vegas got a 5-on-3 power play for 1:09 when Tom Wilson took an interference penalty and Eller was whistled for hooking early in the third, but Holtby, who allowed five goals on 33 shots in Game 1 after posting back-to-back shutouts to close out the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference final, managed to hold the fort.
Holtby made one of his biggest saves of the night with just under two minutes left to play, diving to his right, stopping Alex Tuch’s point-blank shot with his stick to keep the score 3-2.
The Knights continued to push pulling Fleury for an extra attacker, but Holtby and the Capitals kept them off the scoreboard the rest of the way to knot the series and wrestle away home-ice advantage.
The usual pre-game pomp at T-Mobile Arena, which includes showgirls lining the glass in the Washington end of the rink during warmups and a knight defeating an opponent in a sword battle on the ice, also featured a performance by Las Vegas band Imagine Dragons and an appearance by UFC legend Randy Couture.
Both teams promised a tighter checking game after Monday’s 10-goal outburst, and Holtby and Fleury looked much better early before Neal opened the scoring at 7:58 of the first.
The winger knocked teammate Luca Sbisa’s flipped clearing attempt out of midair at the offensive blue line in front of Dmitry Orlov, who tried to knock the puck down with his glove, before stepping past the Capitals defenceman and beating Holtby for his fifth.
The Knights have scored first in all nine of their playoff home games, with each occurring in first period and six coming in the first eight minutes.
Washington forward Evgeny Kuznetsov, who tops the post-season scoring race with 25 points, took a big hit from Brayden McNabb later in the period and crumpled to the ice holding his left arm.
The Russian centre, who skated quickly to the bench and went straight to the locker room, did not return with what the team called an upper-body injury.
The same way Wilson’s hit on Vegas leading scorer Jonathan Marchessault in Game 1 sparked the Knights, the collision seemed to wake up the Capitals as Eller finished off a nice passing play by scoring his sixth with 2:33 left on the clock.
With the teams playing 4-on-4, Andre Burakovsky fed Michal Kempny, who fooled Fleury by passing to Eller for a wide-open net instead of shooting.
Eller signed a five-year, US$17.5-million contract extension in February, and now has the same amount of goals (six) in these playoffs as he did in the first 50 post-season games of his career.
Notes: The Knights are the first team to make the Stanley Cup in their first season since the 1967-68 St. Louis Blues, although an expansion club was guaranteed a spot in the final after the NHL expanded from six to 12 franchises. … The Capitals’ only other trip the Cup came in 1998 when they were swept by the Detroit Red Wings.
Follow @JClipperton_CP on Twitter