Versatile centre Lars Eller stepping up for Capitals in Stanley Cup final

LAS VEGAS — Lars Eller says the more he plays, the better he plays.

The versatile Capitals centre showed that in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup final, and could get even more opportunities in big moments with the status of one Washington’s Conn Smythe Trophy favourites very much up in the air.

Eller had a goal in two assists Wednesday as the Capitals beat the Vegas Golden Knights 3-2 to even the best-of-seven series 1-1 and wrestle away home-ice advantage.

The 29-year-old Dane was bumped up from his third-line role to the second unit after No. 1 centre Evgeny Kuznetsov got rocked by Vegas defenceman Brayden McNabb in the first period. The slick Russian, who leads NHL playoff scoring with 11 goals and 14 assists, departed clutching his left arm and didn’t return due to what the Capitals called an upper-body injury.

The hit seemed to spark Washington, which trailed 1-0 at the time, with Eller tying the score before setting up a power-play effort from Alex Ovechkin and Brooks Orpik’s first goal in 220 games for a 3-1 lead against the expansion Knights.

“Stanley Cup final — you want to be on the ice, not on the bench,” Eller said afterwards. ”I enjoy every single moment of it.”

And he has good reason to.

Eller has six goals and 11 assists in 21 games this post-season after collecting six goals and 17 assists in the first 50 playoff outings of his career.

“He was outstanding,” Capitals centre Nicklas Backstrom said. ”He’s had a great playoffs so far. It’s fun to watch. That’s what we need. We need everyone to step up and he really did.”

Acquired from the Montreal Canadiens at the 2016 draft for two second-round picks, Eller re-upped with Washington in February by signing a five-year contract extension worth US$17.5 million.

That deal is already looking like a bargain.

“He’s a guy who is kind of our secret weapon,” Ovechkin said. ”It’s hard to play (against him) when he’s on top of his game and when he feels the puck.”

Part of the reason the Capitals didn’t flinch at the loss of Kuznetsov — a potential playoff MVP candidate — is because they’ve been here before this spring. Washington was without Andre Burakovsky to start the post-season, saw Tom Wilson suspended three games, and lost Backstrom for four contests with a hand injury.

“Every time this team’s faced some adversity … players have just stepped up to the plate and everybody has just been a little bit better,” said Eller, who missed a chance at a wide-open net that could have tied the score late in Monday’s 6-4 loss in Game 1. ”You lose one of you best players and we hope to have him back soon, but we showed (Wednesday) and we showed in the past that we can win even when one of our best players goes down.”

That ability to weather a storm hasn’t just come when a teammate’s missing, but also when the club finds itself in a hole.

Washington lost its first two games to open the post-season at home to the Columbus Blue Jackets before winning four straight. The Capitals also fell behind 1-0 to the Pittsburgh Penguins — their playoff nemesis — in the second round.

“We feel comfortable at any point in a series,” said goalie Braden Holtby, who made a miraculous stick save with two minutes to go Wednesday to help preserve the win. ”That’s one of the beautiful things of our group.”

Then in the Eastern Conference final, they trailed the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-2 before posting back-to-back shutouts to advance.

A past incarnation of this franchise might have crumbled any number of times — playoff heartbreak was becoming the norm — but these Capitals feel different.

“This group has learned so much. They’ve gotten so resilient,” Washington head coach Barry Trotz said. ”This group has had everything thrown at them and they just say, ‘We’re going to push on. We’re getting close. We have a vision of what we want to do.’ They really just want to continue to keep playing.

“They’re committed. They’re all in. That’s our strength … we’ve had everything thrown at us.”

Just Posted

WATCH: Central Albertans learn about farm life at Sunnybrook Farm Museum

Pioneer Days Festival in Red Deer Saturday-Sunday

Raising awareness for Bikers Against Child Abuse

Second annual Raise A Ruckus Against Child Abuse was held at the Red Deer Radisson Hotel Saturday

Number of seniors who play bridge in Red Deer growing

Red Deer Bridge Club has been around for close to 60 years

Central Alberta Yogathon cancelled Saturday

Due to air quality concerns the fourth annual event will take place Sept. 15

Update: Buccaneers win 38-13 in final home game

Bucs off to the finals with the win

WATCH: Medicine River Wildlife Centre opens new playground

The grand opening of the playground was Saturday morning

Ottawa announces $189M to extend employment insurance for seasonal workers

ESCUMINAC, N.B. — Ottawa has announced $189 million for an employment insurance… Continue reading

Trudeau formally announces he’ll run again in next year’s election

MONTREAL — Justin Trudeau will run again in the 2019 federal election.… Continue reading

Smoke from B.C. wildfires prompts air quality advisories across Western Canada

VANCOUVER — More smoky, hazy air is expected to blanket much of… Continue reading

Anti-pipeline protesters released days before weeklong jail sentences end

MAPLE RIDGE, B.C. — Several pipeline protesters were released from a British… Continue reading

All eyes on Andrew Scheer as Conservative convention set for Halifax

OTTAWA — After a week of internal caucus squabbles, Conservative Leader Andrew… Continue reading

Trump says his White House counsel not a ‘RAT’ like Nixon’s

BRIDGEWATER, N.J. — President Donald Trump insisted Sunday that his White House… Continue reading

Wildfire moves closer to Glacier National Park’s scenic road

MISSOULA, Mont. — A wildfire in Montana’s Glacier National Park is forcing… Continue reading

Prime Minister Trudeau, Premier Couillard march in Montreal’s Pride parade

MONTREAL — Thousands of cheering spectators lined the streets of Montreal on… Continue reading

Most Read


Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month