15,948 days after their first puck drop in franchise history, 3,701 games (regular season and postseason combined), 1,124 games played by Alex Ovechkin, 44 years, 20 years between Stanley Cup Final appearances and 1 Stanley Cup championship— their first in franchise history— the Washington Capitals are your 2018 Stanley Cup champions.
The Capitals won Game 5 on the road, 4-3, Thursday night at T-Mobile Arena and defeated the Vegas Golden Knights, 4-1, in the series.
Washington wasn’t one of the teams expected to win the Cup from day one back in October, unlike the last four or five years, but they won it anyway— clinching every series on the road and as the best road team this postseason.
Oh yeah, in case you haven’t already heard, Ovechkin finally won the Cup in his 13th NHL season. The captain of the Caps, Ovechkin was also named the 2018 Conn Smythe Trophy winner as the Most Valuable Player of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs— becoming just the 2nd Russian born NHL player in league history to capture the MVP award.
Washington netminder Braden Holtby made 28 saves on 31 shots against for a .903 save percentage in the Cup clinching win, while Vegas goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury made 29 saves on 33 shots faced for an .879 SV% in 57:56 time on ice in the loss.
Lars Eller scored the game-winning goal with a little more than seven minutes remaining in the game after Devante Smith-Pelly scored the game-tying goal while falling in what’s sure to become the most iconic photo in D.C. hockey history.
David Perron, Tomas Tatar and William Carrier were in the lineup for the Golden Knights on Thursday, with Ryan Reaves and Ryan Carpenter as a couple of healthy scratches after playing in prior Stanley Cup Final games leading up to Thursday’s Game 5 action.
Tom Wilson bumped into William Karlsson early in the first period with the night’s first big hit of the game, leaving Karlsson a little wobbly on his way back to the bench.
Colin Miller was guilty of the action’s first penalty, having received an infraction for interference against Washington defender, Michal Kempny, at 11:44 of the first period. Vegas killed off the penalty, however, and the score remained, 0-0, despite Ovechkin having dented the post on the ensuing power play.
After one period, the score remained tied, 0-0, with the Capitals leading in shots on goal, 9-7. Both teams had four blocked shots aside and the Golden Knights had the advantage in just about everything else, including hits (18-10), takeaways (5-1), giveaways (7-1) and faceoff win percentage (62-39).
There was only one penalty called after 20 minutes. As a result, the Caps were 0/1 on the power play entering the first intermission.
Teetering with danger isn’t normally advised, but it’s what Vegas goers live for in forms of entertainment— like magicians, acrobats and the like— but hockey? Maybe not a great idea, though Shea Theodore put the dangerous Capitals power play unit on the ice without him as the Golden Knights defender was guilty of tripping T.J. Oshie 21 seconds into the second period.
Nevertheless, the home team prevailed unscathed.
The Golden Knights went on the power play themselves for the first time Thursday night when Christian Djoos delivered a high-stick to Reilly Smith moments later at 3:19. Vegas did not convert on their first player advantage of the game.
A few minutes later, after Las Vegas resident Deryk Engelland fired a shot high over the crossbar, Jakub Vrana had the puck on his stick, transitioning from the center redline into the attacking zone on a breakaway for Washington.
Vrana (3) sniped a shot upstairs— top-shelf, glove side— on Fleury, giving the Capitals the 1-0 lead and scoring the game’s first goal.
Wilson (10) and leading point scorer in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Evgeny Kuznetsov (20), had the assists on Vrana’s goal at 6:24 of the second period. Depth scoring remained a major key to Washington’s success and ultimate victory.
But the Golden Knights weren’t going down without a fight, having reached back into their young franchise history of comebacks and quick responses to being scored on in the postseason.
Nate Schmidt (3) tied the game, 1-1, with a slap shot at 9:40 of the second period. Smith (17) and Jon Marchessault (13) had the assists and Vegas came alive— not just the team, but the entire home crowd.
With their backs against the wall, there was no backing down from the immense pressure of elimination.
But with pressure comes susceptibility to making costly errors.
Brayden McNabb yanked down Ovechkin with a trip on a breakaway 11 seconds after Schmidt scored, giving Washington’s deadly power play another chance. This time the Capitals wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to capitalize on the player advantage.
In stereotypical fashion, it was Ovechkin (15) breaking the hearts of Vegas’s penalty killing unit, rocketing his 15th goal of the playoffs past Fleury on the power play at 10:14. Not only did he set a franchise record for most goals in one postseason with the goal, but he became the first player to score 15 goals in a postseason since his biggest rival, Sidney Crosby, did so in 2009 with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
It seemed like poetic justice. It seemed like fate. Perhaps to the Hockey Gods, it was destiny.
Whatever it was, Nicklas Backstrom (18) and pending-unrestricted free agent, John Carlson (15), had the assists on Ovechkin’s goal that made it 2-1 Washington.
Almost a few minutes later, Vegas was rocking again on a double deflection, ultimately put in the back of the net by Perron (1)— the healthy scratch for most of the Stanley Cup Final, that had yet to score this postseason.
Perron’s goal was challenged for goaltender interference by Capitals head coach, Barry Trotz, but after review, the call on the ice was confirmed; it was a good goal.
Video replay indicated Washington defender Djoos pushed Perron into the crease and made no difference on the play as Holtby was already in desperation, scrambling outside of the crease to get back square to the shooter.
The Golden Knights had tied it, 2-2, in part, thanks to the assists on Perron’s goal from Tatar (1) and Miller (4) at 12:56.
Having lost the coach’s challenge, Washington forfeited their timeout.
For the next five minutes, the game descended into organized chaos. Shift changes on-the-fly, shots ringing off the iron, save-after-save was made and bodies were flying either by contact or by propulsion on skates.
Then Ovechkin was guilty himself— guilty of tripping Karlsson late in the period as the Golden Knights were surging.
Vegas’s power play took their time to set up the perfect play. Holtby was out of position as a result of second, third and fourth chances, leaving an open net for Smith (5) to cash in the power play goal on a pass across the low slot from Alex Tuch, giving the Golden Knights their first lead of the night, 3-2.
Tuch (4) and Theodore (7) had the assists on the Smith’s goal at 19:31 of the second period and as the home crowd experienced euphoria, gloves and shoves were being exchanged after the goal horn.
Washington’s Brooks Orpik and Jay Beagle picked up matching roughing minors with Vegas’s Smith and Tuch. Both teams remained at full strength and headed into the second intermission with the Golden Knights holding on to a one-goal lead.
Entering Thursday night, the Golden Knights were 10-0 when leading after 40 minutes this postseason. Exiting Thursday night, they’d finish their Stanley Cup Final run, 10-1.
But through two periods of intense action, Vegas led, 3-2, on the scoreboard and shots on goal were even, 20-20. The Golden Knights led in everything else, including blocked shots (9-6), hits (29-16), takeaways (13-8), giveaways (11-3) and faceoff win percentage (51-49). Both teams had scored a power play goal entering the second intermission. Washington was 1/3 and Vegas was 1/2 on the man advantage.
Tatar opened the third period with a hooking minor against Eller at 5:37.
Once again the Capitals set up Ovechkin on the ensuing power play, but this time Fleury was able to slam the door shut on the prolific goal scorer and keep his team ahead.
Yet Washington’s onslaught lasted longer than the power play, pressing as hard as ever to tie the game and take back momentum as the midway point of the third period approached.
Orpik kept the puck in the zone at the blue line and threw the rubber biscuit to the front of the net where Smith-Pelly (7) gained possession, dangled as Fleury went through the routine of doing the splits to go from one side of the goal to the other, but Smith-Pelly had just enough to muster a shot while falling, past Fleury’s leg pad and in.
The Caps forward tied it, 3-3, at 9:52 of the third period, matching his goal scoring output from the regular season (seven goals in 75 games played) in just 24 postseason games. Orpik (4) notched the only assist on the now iconic goal in Washington sports lore.
Then Eller (7) pocketed the go-ahead goal and game-winner, as a result of yet another scramble in front of the net, traffic, pounding and collecting a garbage goal— Washington led, 4-3, with a little more than seven-and-a-half minutes left in regulation.
Brett Connolly (3) and Andre Burakovsky (4) were credited with the primary and secondary assists on Eller’s Cup-winner at 12:23.
After a stoppage in play with 2:04 remaining in their season, Golden Knights head coach Gerard Gallant used his team’s timeout to rally his troops and pulled Fleury for an extra attacker.
Washington kept getting the puck out of their own zone, sometimes icing it, sometimes just sending it wide of the empty net, but as long as time ticked down and it didn’t end up behind Holtby, nothing else mattered.
Not even a score-clock malfunction inside the arena, whereby (thankfully) the backup timekeeping apparatus was still working and kept the officials on top of everything, right down until the very last second.
For D.C. sports fans, the agony was over. Their Capitals had won.
For the first time in franchise history— dating back to 1974— Washington is home to Stanley Cup champions and Capitals owner Ted Leonsis can celebrate.
After a 60-minute effort in Game 5, the Capitals won, 4-3, and led in final shots on goal, 33-31. Washington also finished the night leading in blocked shots (13-11), while Vegas held the advantage in hits (39-27) and giveaways (15-6). Both teams finished the night scoring a power play goal, with Washington (1/4) and the Golden Knights (1/2).
The teams shook hands, Ovechkin was named the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as the fans wearing Vegas gold and Caps red both booed league commissioner, Gary Bettman, and finally, Ovechkin was presented with the hardest trophy to win in all professional sports— the Stanley Cup— for the first time in his career.
Entering Thursday night, Washington had lost nine out of their last 10 Game 5s on the road. That didn’t matter. Teams leading the series 3-1 in the Stanley Cup Final were 32-1 all-time, until the Capitals made them 33-1.
Veteran forward Jay Beagle became the first player to win the ECHL’s Kelly Cup, AHL’s Calder Cup and NHL’s Stanley Cup in a professional career, while Ovechkin became just the first Russian captain to lead his team to a Cup victory in NHL history.
Ovechkin also became the 16th player in league history to play at least 1,000 regular season games before winning his first Cup (joining legendary Detroit Red Wings star and current Tampa Bay Lightning GM, Steve Yzerman, to do so all with one team).
Kuznetsov finished the postseason as the third Russian-born player to lead the NHL in playoff scoring during the league’s modern era (since 1943-44), joining Sergei Fedorov (1995) and Evgeni Malkin (2009, 2017) in doing so.
As for Barry Trotz, the Washington Capitals head coach who is now technically a free agent in search of his next contract (and just won his first Cup in his 20th year as an NHL head coach), Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan told reporters after the game, “if he wants to be back, he’ll be back.”