SILVER SPRING, Md.– It only took 44 years, 3,701 games and 28 playoff appearances for the Capitals to be crowned Stanley Cup champions, but now that it has finally happened, the city and the players are rejoicing.
It took a hard fought 4-3 win over the Golden Knights for the Caps to clinch the cup.
Despite a relatively short five game series, Vegas proved to be a formidable opponent as the series progressed. In the first period, both teams started off slow, mustering only a combined 16 shots on goal. Vegas’s penalty kill came up large by stopping the Caps dominant power play after the Golden Knights were called for interference on defenseman Michal Kempny.
The second period was a different story. Washington took a 1-0 lead early in the period, after left winger Jakub Vrana managed to get behind the Vegas defense for an easy breakaway goal.
Shortly after, former Capital Nate Schmidt tied the game up with a slap shot that bounced off of Matt Niskanen’s skate, right into the back of the net. D.C. legend Alexander Ovechkin gave the Capitals the lead again. After receiving a beautiful pass from Nicklas Backstrom, Ovechkin blasted a one-timer from his signature right circle position past Vegas goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.
But, Vegas wasn’t done yet.
Again, they responded with two goals to give the Knights a 3-2 lead at the end of the second period.The first goal came off of a slapshot which ricocheted of off David Perron into the net. Caps netminder Braden Holtby was tripped up on the play by Perron, but goalie interference was not called. The second goal came during Vegas’s second power play of the night. Golden Knight’s winger Reilly Smith cut straight down the middle of the ice and was not picked up by any Capitals. After a quick centering pass from Alex Tuch, Smith gave Vegas the lead with an easy shot into the wide open net.
By this point, Capitals fans are used to the letdowns and chokejobs their team has faced.
In 2017 and 2016, the Caps won the Presidents Trophy as the best Eastern Conference team during the regular season. Yet, they never even reached the conference finals. Last year, they suffered a gut wrenching game 7 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. In 2016, it was another series loss to the Penguins that sent them packing. In fact, before this postseason, Washington has only beaten Pittsburgh twice all-time in the playoffs.
So when the Capitals finally overcame the “Penguin effect” and beat Pittsburgh in the conference semifinals, it felt like something had changed for this team. Considering all the adversity the Caps have faced in previous seasons, one more challenge in Game 5 didn’t seem like a big obstacle at all.
One of the hidden heroes for the Capitals, Devante Smith-Pelly, tied the game up with an incredible shot while falling to the ice. Just as Smith-Pelly reached the puck, he fell, but still managed to wrap the puck around the pad of Fleury, into the net. With ten minutes to go, the score was tied 3-3. Then the improbable happened. With 7:37 left in the third period, Washington’s Brett Connolly took a shot from the middle of the ice which somehow trickled through the pads of Fleury. Lars Eller was perfectly positioned behind the net and was able to jam the puck home, giving the Caps a 4-3 lead.
From there, the Caps hung on to their slight lead.
Capitals coach Barry Trotz made sure to position his defensemen securely on the forecheck as Vegas became more aggressive with their offense. Washington continued to ice the puck until the Golden Knights ran out of time. As the clock dwindled down, Capitals fans started to realize what was about to happen. And as the final buzzer sounded, Ovechkin looked to the stars as he raced onto the ice.
His teammates threw off their gloves and helmets, embracing one another in celebration of their first Stanley Cup. Ovechkin ended up winning the Conn Smythe Trophy for MVP of the playoffs. “I can’t explain what I feel. It’s unbelievable,” he said after the game. Other Capitals were in shock as well.
Defenseman Matt Niskanen said, “It was like we were a bunch of 10-year-olds that just won their first hockey tournament. It was like we were a bunch of little kids again. Amazing.”
Goalie Braden Holtby shed light on what it was like to struggle for so many years, and now finally reach the pinnacle of their sport. He said, “Years of heartbreak, years of breaking things down and trying again. This group never gave up, and we finally did it.”
Back in D.C., pandemonium broke out as the clock hit zero.
Over 70,000 fans flooded the streets to celebrate Washington D.C.’s first pro sports championship since the Redskins won the Super Bowl in 1992. Die hard Capitals fan and Blair sophomore Cedric Prentice was in D.C. for the celebration.
“It was crazy,” he said. “It was one of the best moments of my life.”
Most hockey fans would say Washington won this series simply because of “puck luck.” But if you look back at the previous games, the Capitals were getting lucky because they were aggressive and kept getting shots on goal.
Vegas was too tentative in their shot selection throughout the series. This is best show when in game 4, James Neal had a wide open net while standing in front of the goal, but decided to shoot top shelf just to be safe.
The result was the puck hitting off the crossbar, completely missing the net. Washington wanted the Stanley Cup more, and they were willing to work harder to get it. It only seems fitting that in the year in which everyone doubted the Capitals, they would defy everyone’s expectations.
No one, not even Caps fans expected the type of run this team would have. It takes a strong, defiant group of players to win the Stanley Cup, so maybe all of those heartbreaking seasons helped the Capitals after all.
What is certain though, is that this Washington Capitals season will always be remembered as the year the Caps finally won it all.