WASHINGTON — Lars Eller will never be confused with Evgeny Kuznetsov or Nicklas Backstrom. But the Washington Capitals forward has done a pretty good imitation of both during these playoffs.
The third-line centre, who was bumped up in the lineup when Backstrom missed time in the second and third rounds, climbed up the depth chart again when Kuznetsov left the first period in Game 2.
“Nick has gone out or Kuzy has been out and Lars has elevated his game and comes up in a more prominent role, if you will,” said Capitals head coach Barry Trotz. “I think he embraces the challenge. He takes the moments very seriously that he has to step up and try to find a way to produce, and he has. He’s a veteran player who has good hockey sense, and he’s strong on the puck, and I think his game translates well in the playoffs.”
Eller, who scored a goal and had a pair of assists in a 3-2 win in Game 2, has six goals and 17 points in the playoffs.
The Capitals do not go all out with their in-game entertainment like the Golden Knights, but the team is hoping that it can turn playing at home into an advantage. After a 28-11-2 record at Capital One Arena during the regular season, Washington is 4-5 at home in the playoffs.
“I think that early in the playoffs, home-ice advantage for most teams is not that big of a deal,” Trotz said. “And it hasn’t been that big of a deal for us.
“We feel very comfortable at home. I think our game will translate at home. I think our fans will give us a really good boost.”
Though everyone was giving Braden Holtby all the credit in the world for making a game-saving stop on Alex Tuch in the final minutes of Game 2, Golden Knights head coach Gerard Gallant said the team has to make life tougher on the Capitals goalie.
That starts with getting bodies in front of the net — particularly on the power play, where Vegas went 1 for 5 in Game 2.
“I think we’ve got to play more inside, definitely,” Gallant said. “On the power-play goal, we got people in front of the goal and they don’t get a chance to see the shot.”
The Golden Knights lost at home for only the second time in the playoffs. But the team, which lost Game 1 to the Winnipeg Jets in the Western Conference final, has been in a similar spot before.
“There’s no panic,” Gallant said. “The series is 1-1. We’re switching to the next two games here in Washington. We’ve got to play a little better, work harder, and compete. We know it’s never going to be easy to win a Stanley Cup. So you’ve just got to focus on the next game.”
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