2020 Winter Classic sweater reviews, a standings update and Top-10 NHL power rankings.
48-26-8, 104 points, 1st in the Metropolitan Division
Eliminated in the First Round by Carolina
Additions: F Garnet Hathaway, F Brendan Leipsic, F Philippe Maillet, F Richard Panik, D Radko Gudas (acquired from PHI)
Subtractions: F Riley Barber (signed with MTL), F Mathias Bau (EBEL), F Andre Burakovsky (traded to COL), F Brett Connolly (signed with FLA), F Hampus Gustafsson (SHL), F Dmitrij Jaskin (KHL), F Jayson Megna (signed with COL), F Mason Mitchell (signed with Rochester, AHL), F Devante Smith-Pelly (signed to a PTO with CGY), F Nathan Walker (signed with STL), D Aaron Ness (signed with ARI), D Matt Niskanen (traded to PHI), D Brooks Orpik (retired), G Parker Milner (signed with Hershey, AHL)
Still Unsigned: F Scott Kosmachuk (rights acquired from COL)
Re-signed: F Chandler Stephenson, F Jakub Vrana, D Christian Djoos, D Colby Williams, G Vitek Vanecek
Offseason Analysis: The Washington Capitals have earned themselves a little grace period after winning the Cup in 2018, but don’t let that fool you from some of the poor choices they made this offseason.
Whether or not they would’ve had the money to keep Brett Connolly from joining the Florida Panthers in free agency after posting a career year with 22-24–46 totals in 81 games is besides the point.
The Caps made a lot of odd decisions.
For starters, they signed Garnet Hathaway (19 points in 76 games for Calgary last season), Brendan Leipsic (23 points in 62 games with Vancouver and Los Angeles) and Richard Panik (33 points in 75 gamed for Arizona).
Sure, Hathaway and Panik are durable top-nine forwards that are likely to see an increase in their offensive numbers by virtue of being on the same team as Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, but to have them for four years as your mid-range forwards with Carl Hagelin and Lars Eller might just catch up to you at some point.
At least Leipsic has always been in demand on waivers and is a good option to plug somewhere in the lineup or send down to the Hershey Bears (AHL).
Meanwhile, Capitals General Manager, Brian MacLellan, worked the phones this summer to trade Matt Niskanen to the Philadelphia Flyers for Radko Gudas in a one-for-one swap and dealt Andre Burakovsky to the Colorado Avalanche for Scott Kosmachuk (unsigned), a 2020 2nd round pick and a 2020 3rd round pick.
It might seem like an overpay for Avalanche GM, Joe Sakic, but Burakovsky’s looking to prove himself in the biggest role he’s ever had and it wouldn’t hurt Washington to restock their prospect pool as a result.
In the meantime, Gudas is almost assured of doing something to yield a suspension, which may or may not hurt the Capitals more than Evgeny Kuznetsov’s three-game suspension to start the regular season may already do.
Kuznetsov was suspended by the league for “inappropriate conduct”, in which he failed a drug test and was banned from international competition by the International Ice Hockey Federation for four years.
The NHL, on the other hand, doesn’t have a policy for testing positive for cocaine.
Washington’s head coach, Todd Reirden, is entering his second season at the reigns behind the bench and has plenty of fresh faces to utilize in effort to avoid another seven-game First Round elimination at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes.
Don’t get too comfortable in Washington as Braden Holtby is due for an extension by season’s end or else he may walk in free agency.
Offseason Grade: D+
The Capitals could contend for another Cup in the next few years or they could continue to slide towards irrelevancy faster than the current trend the Pittsburgh Penguins are on.
Neither fan base wants to hear that, let alone be compared to one another in such a similar manner, but it’s true. None of their free agent additions even remotely scream “decent depth signing” or anything.
Auston Matthews signed an extension with the Toronto Maple Leafs. What does this mean for the Leafs? Alex Stalock, Jordan Martinook and Pheonix Copley all signed extensions with their clubs, as Tuukka Rask became the winningest goaltender in Boston Bruins history, Alex Ovechkin became the highest scoring Russian-born NHL player and Paul Maurice reached 1,500 games behind the bench as a head coach.
The DTFR Duo also reviewed all 31 NHL teams as buyers and/or sellers at the 2019 trade deadline.
The Dallas Stars and Pittsburgh Penguins swapped familiar assets, while the Toronto Maple Leafs added a defender in a deal with the Los Angeles Kings. Red Kelly’s number is going to be retired (again– this time by the Detroit Red Wings) and we now know the opponents in the 2020 Winter Classic and 2020 Stadium Series games.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the Washington Capitals beat the Boston Bruins in a regular season game.
Thursday night at TD Garden, the Capitals ended Boston’s five-game winning streak with a 4-2 victory on the road as Nicklas Backstrom scored the game-winning goal in the third period prior to Alex Ovechkin adding the insurance goal (his second of the night) with the Bruins net empty as time ticked away in regulation.
Braden Holtby (17-10-2 record, 2.86 goals against average, .912 save percentage in 30 games played) stopped 39 out of 41 shots faced for a .951 SV% in the win for Washington and improved to 16-2 in 18 career games against Boston.
B’s netminder, Jaroslav Halak (13-7-2, 2.39 GAA, .924 SV% in 24 GP), made 18 saves on 21 shots against for an .857 SV% in the loss.
The Bruins are now 0-11-3 in their last 14 regular season games against Washington.
Boston falls to 25-15-4 (54 points) on the season and remains in 3rd place in the Atlantic Division standings, while the Capitals improved to 27-12-4 (58 points) so far this season and remain in 1st place in the Metropolitan Division standings.
Bruins head coach, Bruce Cassidy, made no changes to his lineup, save for Halak getting the start over Tuukka Rask, based on the logic Cassidy used against the Anaheim Ducks last month (starting Halak in goal against a team the Bruins haven’t beaten in a while).
It worked against the Ducks. It didn’t against the Caps.
The moral of the story is it’s not the goaltender. It’s the overall effort of the team.
Cassidy indicated McAvoy could be back in the lineup on Saturday in Toronto, earlier in the day on Thursday.
The Bruins did not convert on the skater advantage and the Caps swung momentum in their favor.
Jakub Vrana (15) entered the attacking zone on a breakaway resulting from T.J. Oshie‘s lead pass, which Vrana used to springboard himself in on a defenseless Halak, sniping the puck past Boston’s goaltender and giving Washington the lead, 1-0, at 6:38 of the first period.
Oshie (6) had the only assist on the goal.
Late in the opening frame, Marchand drew another penalty, this time when Michal Kempny tripped up the Bruins winger at 14:13.
The Capitals entered the dressing room for the first intermission with the lead, 1-0, while being outshot by Boston, 17-5. The Caps also led in blocked shots (8-2), giveaways (7-1) and hits (10-5), while the Bruins led in takeaways (4-3) and face-off win percentage (53-47).
Washington had yet to see any time on the power play after one period, but Boston was already 0/2 on the skater advantage heading into the middle frame.
Early in the second period, Patrice Bergeron tripped Vrana and gave Washington their first power play of the night at 5:10.
Shortly after their power play expired, Lars Eller received a two-minute minor infraction for unsportsmanlike conduct directed towards Marchand at 7:43 of the second period and the Bruins went on the power play for the third time Thursday evening.
Boston did not yield a goal on the skater advantage and shortly followed up with a penalty of their own as Brandon Carlo was penalized for tripping Ovechkin at 10:57.
The Bruins managed to kill off Carlo’s minor and surged enough in momentum to generate some zone time over the course of the vulnerable minute after Washington’s power play ended.
The rookie Bruins winger settled the puck and fired his patented wrist shot past the Capitals goaltender to tie the game, 1-1, at 14:11 of the second period.
Krug (25) and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson (4) had the assists on Donato’s (6) goal, which set a new career-high for No. 17 in black-and-gold.
Less than a minute later, Ovechkin (31) found his revenge on the scoreboard as he sent a shot from close range past Halak’s short side as Tom Wilson found Ovechkin in the face-off circle to the right of the Bruins goalie.
Wilson (9) had the only assist on Ovechkin’s goal at 14:50 and the Caps led, 2-1.
In the dying seconds of the middle frame, former Bruin, Brett Connolly received a minor penalty for holding Krug at 19:52.
Boston’s ensuing power play would carry on into the third period, with the Capitals still in command of the scoreboard, 2-1, after 40 minutes of play.
The B’s led in shots on goal, 28-12, after two periods– outshooting Washington, 11-7, in the second period alone.
Washington led in blocked shots (13-7), giveaways (10-5) and hits (24-17) through two periods of action, while Boston led in takeaways (11-5) and face-off win% (62-38).
Entering the second intermission, the Capitals were 0/2 on the power play and the Bruins were 0/4.
After a bungled line change cost Washington a too many men on the ice bench minor at 3:58 of the third period, Capitals head coach sent Ovechkin to serve the penalty.
While Ovechkin was in the box, David Krejci (8) was scoring goals– a power play goal, blasted from the outer edge of the face-off circle to Holtby’s left, tying the game, 2-2, at 4:37 of the third.
Danton Heinen (7) and David Backes (8) notched the assists on Krejci’s goal and the Bruins looked like they might have enough confidence to get over their regular season slump against the Capitals, but Washington had other things in mind.
Backstrom (11) scored the game-winning goal, high, glove-side past Halak with a wrong-footed wrist shot at 5:46– just over a minute after Krejci tied the game for Boston.
Oshie (7) and Siegenthaler (4) had the assists on Backstrom’s goal as the Capitals took the lead, 3-2, in the final frame.
Down by a goal with about 1:39 remaining on the clock, Cassidy pulled Halak for an extra skater, but four seconds later, Ovechkin (32) cleared the puck from his own zone into the empty net in Boston’s defensive end.
Ovechkin’s goal put the game away, 4-2, and was unassisted at 18:25. It was his second goal of the night and his 128th career two-goal game, as a result.
Halak vacated the net once more about 20 seconds later, but it was too little, too late, as the final horn sounded and the Capitals secured the win in Boston.
The Bruins finished the night leading in shots on goal (41-22) and face-off win% (66-34), but Washington dominated the scoreboard, 4-2, and led in blocked shots (18-7), giveaways (14-6), as well as hits (32-25).
The Caps went 0/2 on the power play, while the B’s finished 1/5 on the skater advantage.
Boston travels to Toronto to face the Maple Leafs this Saturday night before heading back home for a matchup with the Montreal Canadiens on Monday.
The Bruins then hit the road for the start of two games in two nights, starting with a Wednesday night game in Philadelphia against the Flyers before venturing back home to host the St. Louis Blues next Thursday. The B’s host the New York Rangers next Saturday (Jan. 19th) in their last game before the All-Star break.
A bunch of minor trades were made in the last week, the 2019 Honda NHL All-Star Game rosters were released, as well as the 2019-20 outdoor game schedule. Nick and Connor also discuss the legacy that was the 2019 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic and the 2019 IIHF World Junior Quarterfinal upsets.
*Editor’s Note: Of course, after recording this week’s episode, the Philadelphia Flyers claimed G Mike McKenna off waivers from the Vancouver Canucks.
More on the Arizona Coyotes latest debacle with Seattle expansion looming, Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith did something never done before, the Calgary Flames rise in the Western Conference and the St. Louis Blues dismal season. Bob Murray and the Anaheim Ducks made a few moves– signing Murray to an extension, claiming Chad Johnson off waivers and a minor trade.
Plus, Nick and Connor review the last 15 years of first round picks by the Pittsburgh Penguins and do a deep dive on their future and what it might look like.
The 2018 Hockey Hall of Fame Class was inducted on Monday, plus we remember the NHL Guardians and celebrate Joe Thornton’s milestones. Tomas Plekanec retired– leaving us a turtleneck to pass on ceremoniously– and Milan Lucic was fined $10,000.
The Pittsburgh Penguins’ plight comes with an extension for General Manager Jim Rutherford, while the Los Angeles Kings battle the injury bug in net (we finished recording before Wednesday’s trade between the two clubs).
Meanwhile, Tom Wilson is back, a concussion lawsuit was settled, the 2019 NWHL All-Star Game was announced, Jakob Chychrun got a six-year extension and Nick and Connor discuss when they’ll eventually let their kids (if they ever have any) play contact sports.
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Shouldn’t have to write this, really, but Bruins fans, calm down.
It’s not unlike Bruce Cassidy‘s Bruins to get off on a sour note out of the gate, though Boston has never seen quite a blowout game like this to start a regular season in their 95-year franchise history dating back to 1924.
Boston dropped Wednesday night’s game against the Washington Capitals, 7-0, on the road at Capital One Arena– much to the pleasure of the Caps fans cheering their team on louder than ever for becoming “defending Stanley Cup champions” for the first time in franchise history as the night was marked by Washington’s banner raising ceremony.
Braden Holtby had a 25 save shutout for the Capitals, who won their 13th straight regular season matchup against Boston. The Bruins are now 0-10-3 against Washington since last defeating the Capitals in a 4-2 victory on March 29, 2014.
Meanwhile, Tuukka Rask stopped 14 out of 19 shots faced for a .737 save percentage before being pulled in the second period (27:28 time on ice). Jaroslav Halak made his Bruins debut and turned aside 16 of the 18 shots he faced in the remaining 32:32 of the game for an .889 SV%.
No, this does not mean there’s a goaltending controversy in Boston. It was one game. The first one. Relax. Even the San Jose Sharks lost Wednesday night, 5-2, to the Anaheim Ducks and San Jose has Martin Jones— in addition to Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic on defense, in case you haven’t already heard that enough in the offseason.
Patrice Bergeron made his regular season debut despite not participating in a preseason game, but nothing else made waves for Boston in the headlines.
Boston’s effort in the first period dominated the face-off dot, winning 82% of the faceoffs drawn, but their penalty kill suffered.
A little over a minute later, Sean Kuraly tripped up Lars Eller in Boston’s defensive zone, putting Washington on the power play for the first time on the night at 1:45 of the first period. Two seconds was all it took for Evgeny Kuznetsov (1) to win the faceoff and fire a shot past the Bruins netminder to give Washington a 2-0 lead less than two minutes into the 2018-19 regular season.
Jakub Vrana tripped Ryan Donato at 8:26 of the period and gave the Bruins their first man advantage of the night, but it was to no avail as Boston’s power play unit could not establish zone time in the offensive end.
After 20 minutes of play, the Capitals looked as though they hadn’t been diving in fountains around D.C. all offseason, while the Bruins looked like a team that was jet-lagged.
Perhaps from their trip to China as part of the NHL China Games this preseason. Not that it goes without saying that the lack of effort in the first period got even worse in the second and third period to the extent that upon Rask’s replacement with Halak, the Bruins backup goaltender was making every other save in desperation.
Entering the first intermission, Washington was outshooting Boston, 13-9.
Brad Marchand tripped Vrana early in the second period and the Bruins would be shorthanded once again.
Just 1:16 into the power play, Backstrom faked a shot then slid a pass over to Alex Ovechkin (1) in his stereotypical spot on the power play unit, slapping one past Rask from the faceoff circle and giving the Capitals a commanding 3-0 lead at 4:17 of the 2nd period. Backstrom (2) and Oshie (1) had the assists on the goal.
Ovechkin’s first goal of the season sparked a run of three goals on three shots in a span of 3:11 for Washington as Nic Dowd (1) and Kuznetsov (2) added a pair of goals to make it 4-0 and 5-0, respectively for the Capitals.
Dowd scored his first in a Washington sweater at 6:13 of the second period after the Bruins failed to clear the puck out of the zone and Washington got a shot off that was blocked by Boston defender, Matt Grzelcyk.
Finding the loose puck, while going through with a backhand shot on a spin-o-rama through Kevan Miller‘s legs and behind Rask, Dowd scored his first of the year with assists from Nathan Walker (1) and Devante Smith-Pelly (1).
Between Dowd’s goal and Kuznetsov’s second of the night, Kuraly dropped the gloves with young Capitals blue liner, Madison Bowey, resulting in five-minute major penalties for fighting at 6:45 of the 2nd period.
Kuznetsov pocketed his second goal of the game less than a minute later with John Carlson (1) and Braden Holtby (1) notching their first assists of the season. His soft goal on the short side of Rask was more than enough to convince Cassidy to replace the struggling netminder with Halak.
Carlson (1) took full advantage of a slap-pass from Ovechkin across the ice to the point and wired a clapper high-left side past Halak to make it 6-0 for the Capitals. Ovechkin (1) and Backstrom (3) picked up the assists on the Washington number one defender’s goal.
Through 40 minutes, Boston trailed 6-0 and in shots on goal 25-15 (including a 12-6 advantage for Washington in the 2nd period). The Bruins, however, were leading the night in physical play with a 25-12 advantage in hits (as is often the case of a losing team trying to pry the puck away from the other team in control of the scoreboard).
Washington was 4/5 on the power play through two periods and the B’s were 0/1.
Bowey opened the action in the 3rd period with a cross-check to Marchand at 8:25, giving Boston their second opportunity on the skater advantage for the night. They did not convert on ensuing the power play.
Instead, shortly after killing off Bowey’s minor, Lars Eller (1) found a way to sneak past Brandon Carlo and Noel Acciari— rushing back to bail out his defender– and into a one-on-one with Jaroslav Halak.
Eller fired the puck behind the Boston netminder for the point-after-touchdown goal giving Washington a 7-0 lead at 10:52 of the 3rd period. Eller’s ensuing celebration would irk the Bruins brass as he proceeded to wave his hand in a motion that seemed to signal for Boston to leave the rink.
Needless to say, some weren’t pleased– like Brad Marchand, who would drop the gloves with Eller moments later– but before that, a quick note on Eller’s goal as Chandler Stephenson (1) and Brooks Orpik (1) were credited with the assists on the quick transition that led to a breakaway conversion.
Marchand got a few good punches on Eller, leaving the Capitals third-line center bloodied, and picked up two minutes for instigating, as well as a 10-minute misconduct. The Bruins winger ended his night with a 2+5=10 effort at 13:54 of the 3rd period.
Eller received a five-minute major for fighting, as well, and got some attention to stop the bleeding before heading for the penalty box.
Washington finished off Boston as time expired, 7-0, and ended the night with a 37-25 shots on goal advantage. The Capitals also led in blocked shots (15-12) and giveaways (10-3), while the Bruins led in hits (28-16) and faceoff win% (68-32).
The Caps finished the night 4/6 on the power play, while Boston went 0/2.
To summarize, the Bruins effort was non-existent past the first line, especially after the first 20 minutes of the game. Kuraly led the way with four hits, while Chris Wagner and David Backes each had three apiece and Acciari had two. Fourth line winger, Joakim Nordstrom debuted in a Bruins uniform with one hit on the night and a largely forgettable appearance on the ice.
While Boston turns their attention to the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday night at KeyBank Center, expert eyes of the fans, TV analysts and coaches will be paying attention to what kind of changes Cassidy makes to shake up his bottom-six depth and lackadaisical efforts on the blue line, while hopefully generating more offense– let alone a goal.
Except for Jake DeBrusk ringing the post in the first period, Boston’s effort was largely quiet.
It’s only one game, but it was not the game that set the tone for this 2018-19 Bruins team yet.
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.
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.
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.
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.”