The Washington Capitals and the Las Vegas Golden Knights faced off for Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday night and as you would expect at this time of year this was a critical game for both teams. In the case of the Washington Capitals it was a chance to take a stranglehold on the series, a win would put them just one more victory away from hoisting the Stanley Cup, meanwhile for the Golden Knights it had to feel like a must win situation, a loss would put them down 3-1 and could potentially put the Stanley Cup out of reach.
Early in the first period it looked good for the Las Vegas Golden Knights who were applying a ton of pressure on the Washington Capitals out of the gate and that pressure multiplied several times over when the Golden Knights were awarded a power play after just roughly 4 minutes of play. During that power play the Golden Knights found several high quality scoring chances but unfortunately they were never able to capitalize on any of those chances. The most frustrating of those missed opportunities though unquestionably belongs to Golden Knights veteran forward James Neal.
After an absolutely magnificent tic tac toe type of play from Golden Knights' forwards Tomas Tatar and Erik Haula Neal quite literally had himself a wide open net but he could not bury the puck. Despite the fact that Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby had been completely fooled by the beautiful passing of Neal's teammates Neal couldn't hammer the puck home and instead shot it across the crease and nail the far post on the other side of the net instead. The fans at Capital One Arena were left in complete disbelief for a moment and fans in Vegas watching on their television sets were likely screaming at Neal for botching this one. It's hard to recall off the top of my head a wide open net opportunity like that in the Stanley Cup Final that was so badly botched by a player, especially one as experienced as James Neal.
It was a terrible missed opportunity for the Golden Knights and, while this may not be related, just a few short moments after the Capitals successfully killed off the Golden Knights power play the offensive onslaught seemed to slow considerably from Vegas. Even worse they were caught moments later on an undisciplined tripping penalty, one that clearly saw Colin Miller sticking his leg out to trip Capitals forward Lars Eller. The Washington Capitals wasted no time on the power play and unlike the Golden Knights they made the best of their goal scoring opportunities, burying a goal after less than a minute had expired on the power play.
The Capitals would go on to add two additional goals before the end of the first period and the once energetic and fast paced Golden Knights appeared to be extremely deflated. The Capitals largely dictated the pace for the remainder of the period but you have to wonder how things could have been different if Neal had scored the goal and given his teammates some momentum.