If Evgeny Kuznetsov is out -- here's the latest -- what are the Caps' lines?
Greg Wyshynski, senior hockey writer: Lars Eller slid up to the second line for the Capitals after Nicklas Backstrom went down with that hand injury against the Penguins, and he played exemplary. So, in theory, that's the play. But let me offer this: Backstrom's line with T.J. Oshie and Jakub Vrana has been the best for Washington in these two games, and the only one on the positive side of possession at even strength. Ideally? Play Eller with Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson, unless that combination flops hard, and then move Backstrom up.
Emily Kaplan, national hockey reporter: The Capitals keep talking about how they've been tested against adversity before -- and withstood it -- and honestly, they're right. Backstrom makes the top line just as dangerous, and Eller has had such a strong postseason, I have no problem with him as the No. 2 center. I'd keep Jay Beagle on the fourth line and see what Chandler Stephenson can do on the third line around better talent, like Andre Burakovsky.
Chris Peters, hockey prospects writer: The natural progression is to put Backstrom with Ovechkin and Wilson and maybe tinker with the idea of throwing Eller up there, to see if he can stay hot. Otherwise, Eller can slide into Backstrom's normal spot between Oshie and Vrana. I'd keep the Stephenson, Beagle and Devante Smith-Pelly line together, too. Travis Boyd may be the best option to call on from regular scratches as a natural center, to see if he can work between Burakovsky and Brett Connolly, but that's a big spot for a less experienced player. So I could definitely see Emily's idea of moving Stephenson to the middle on the third line being a solid option.
Ben Arledge, Insider NHL editor: I'm not going to overcomplicate this. I'm just sliding Backstrom and Eller each up a rung on the ladder if Kuznetsov can't go. Stephenson is probably your best bet for the third line between Burakovsky and Connolly.
Has Marc-Andre Fleury hit a wall?
Wyshynski: I'm not sure if this is Fleury hitting the wall or Fleury hitting a team that isn't fazed by his numbers and has been putting pucks by him for over 10 seasons. Fleury had significant victories over the Capitals, but not stellar numbers while with Pittsburgh. They know his tendencies and how to exploit them. He hasn't played poorly in the Final, but that talk about Fleury getting the Conn Smythe "win or lose" has certainly quieted down.
Kaplan: I'm not writing him off just yet. Through the first two games, he has looked more like the goaltender we remember from his waning days in Pittsburgh than the one who has sparkled through the first three rounds. But the Golden Knights haven't played totally sound hockey in front of him, and none of the goals have seemed egregious. By the way, he's still the overwhelming Conn Smythe favorite if Vegas wins; many had floated the idea his performance could still win him a Conn Smythe even in a Final loss, but that's no longer true. Should Washington win, it would be Ovechkin's trophy to lose.
Peters: I'm moderately worried, only because he has gone from superhuman to human in this series. He hasn't been bad, just not otherworldly, which isn't really a fair criticism because expecting him to maintain that level for the duration of the playoffs is too optimistic. The best thing for Fleury is that the previous three series ended relatively quickly. He has only appeared in two more games this postseason than he did last year with the Penguins, and injury prevented him from playing a full slate in the regular season. I think we just have to give the Caps credit for being the toughest test the Golden Knights have faced to date.
Arledge: No, not yet. All we're seeing is Fleury going from historically great to just good. In Game 2, he gave up three goals: He was fooled a bit on a Michal Kempny pass on the Eller goal and wasn't able to recover; Ovechkin beat him on a one-timer all alone down low on the power play; and Brooks Orpik snuck one by him on a deflection. Neither goalie was fantastic in Game 1, and Braden Holtby's late-game save overshadowed everything else in Game 2. I'm not ready to say "Flower" has turned into a pumpkin just because he isn't posting shutouts against a team that is scoring 3.48 goals per game in the playoffs. I expect him to put on a show in Game 3 and remind us all why he was the no-doubt Conn Smythe favorite coming into the series.
The lineup change that should be made is: _______
Wyshynski: I'd like to see Alex Tuch swapped for David Perron on the Golden Knights' second line. Tuch doesn't have a point in this series and is currently their worst possession player through two games. He has played with James Neal and Erik Haula before, and I think it's important they get him going in what's becoming an increasingly physical series.
Kaplan: The highest-paid skater on the Golden Knights' roster has only played in six playoff games. GM George McPhee spent a small fortune to acquire Tomas Tatar at the trade deadline, and his light usage has been puzzling. Sure, the Knights have been mostly fine without him (and he should earn a regular lineup spot next season), but I'd love to see what he can do when he's not on such a short leash -- and plays in more than two consecutive playoff games.
Peters: This is the boring answer, but aside from the lineup changes required due to injury, I don't think there's much either should do at this point. It's a tied series, and the games have been tight. I don't think either squad has a notable upgrade among the scratches. We've been treated to two of the postseason's most entertaining games, so give me some more of that.
Arledge: I like Greg's suggestion of moving Tuch down a line until he gets cooking, and NHL editor Tim Kavanagh also pointed out that power-play specialist defenseman Brad Hunt might be worth taking a look at after the Knights went 1-for-5 on the man advantage and failed to convert a lengthy 5-on-3 in Game 2. Perhaps not a bad idea. I'd also like to see a few more minutes out of Connolly. He's seeing just over nine minutes per game in the series, making him the only Washington forward with single-digit minutes per game. He has five goals in these playoffs, including one this series, so I'd look to get the former first-round pick more involved.
How will Washington match the Vegas pregame show (aside from Pat Sajak)?
Wyshynski: Do the exact same show as Vegas, only with George Washington and the Founding Fathers instead of the knight and the archers.
Kaplan: Send virtual cascading cherry blossom petals around the arena. Show us an extremely serious montage of our presidents and national monuments. And then give the people what they really want -- and this truly would top Vegas: Lin-Manuel Miranda performing a bit from "Hamilton." (I know Alexander Hamilton never really lived in D.C., but he's a founding father and his legacy is entrenched in the city). Do it, D.C. Don't throw away your shot.
Peters: First, they won't top Vegas, but I have a suggestion: live bald eagles. Maybe a half-dozen, just cruising around the arena being majestic and free. Maybe throw a Golden Knight dummy stuffed with fish on the ice, to see if the birds bite. Sure, it's dangerous for everyone involved, but that's what you've got to do to compete in today's NHL.
Arledge: How much space do the Blue Angels need to perform? In short, the Caps aren't matching the Vegas show, and I'm not sure they should even try. There's something pretty great about it just being Las Vegas' thing. Plus, Washington is getting its first home championship-round game in any sport since 1998, when the Caps lost in the Stanley Cup Final to the Red Wings. The building won't need a show to get the place going. One simple suggestion for D.C., though: Give me Teddy Roosevelt and the other three Racing Presidents from the Washington Nationals' games on skates at some point in the night.