Washington Capitals even NHL Stanley Cup Final series at 1-1 with 3-2 win at Vegas

Vegas Golden Knights right wing Reilly Smith, left, jumps out of the way of a shot that was stopped by Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby during the third period in Game 2 of the NHL Stanley Cup Finals on Wednesday in Las Vegas. (AP photo)

LAS VEGAS — Alex Tuch collected the skittering puck with absolutely nothing between him and the tying goal with two minutes left in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final.

Braden Holtby reacted with pure instinct.

Washington’s goalie stretched back and lunged to his right with his stick, thrusting the paddle into the exact 4-inch slot of air through which Tuch’s shot was headed for the net.

“Luckily it hit me,” Holtby said with a shrug.

The Washington goalie’s coaches and teammates weren’t quite so calm about a save that will go down in Capitals history as the key to a 3-2 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights on Wednesday night, evening the series at one game apiece.

Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby, right, stops a shot by Vegas Golden Knights left wing Tomas Nosek during the second period in Game 1 of the NHL Stanley Cup Finals on Monday in Las Vegas. (AP photo)

The win was the Caps’ first-ever Stanley Cup Final victory — and the save might be a catalyst to even bigger things.

“To me, it was the hockey gods,” Washington coach Barry Trotz said. “They evened it up from the last game. Great save. You could see the emotion on our bench. Once he made that save, I knew we were going to win the game.”

Holtby made 37 saves, but he got help from earthly sources as well. Alex Ovechkin scored a power-play goal, his first in a Final, Brooks Orpik ended a personal 220-game goal drought with the eventual winner, and Lars Eller added a goal and two assists.

“We refocus and pick each other up and that’s a sign of a good team,” Holtby said. “That’s one of our strengths.”

Game 3 is Saturday night in Washington. The Caps are just 4-5 at home in the postseason, but they’ll ride a wave of momentum after going into the Golden Knights’ daunting home arena and taking away home-ice advantage in Washington’s first Stanley Cup Final in 20 years.

After getting battered in the Knights’ 6-4 series-opening win, Holtby made several big saves throughout Game 2, coming up particularly big while Washington killed a 5-on-3 disadvantage for 1:09 earlier in the third period. He capped his energetic performance with that jaw-dropping stick save on Tuch with 1:59 to play.

“Holts just makes the save of the year,” Washington forward Jay Beagle said.