In the hours following the Washington Capitals first Stanley Cup victory, Alex Ovechkin has dominated the conversation — and rightly so.
Perennially one of the best players in the NHL, Ovechkin suffered through early playoff exits, unmet team expectations and questions about if he’d ever win it all. So when he finally had his moment after 13 seasons and the Capitals’ 4-3 Game 5 victory against the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday, it was a remarkable piece of hockey history.
But as we continue to talk about the new Stanley Cup champions and their emotional and heartwarming stories, it’s important to remember that how Washington won is just as noteworthy as winning itself.
Simply, the Capitals unquestionably controlled the final series, which was the opposite of the previous three leading up to it.
They opened the playoffs by falling into a 2-0 hole to the Columbus Blue Jackets with home-ice advantage, making fans wonder if they were going to get swept.
“You right now in hard position,” Ovechkin said. “But it’s going to be fun when we bounce back and going to tie the series and come back here and play Game 5 at home.”
He made good on his promise, as Washington won four straight games to advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals to face its rival Pittsburgh Penguins.
But the Capitals fought through adversity in that series too, eliminating Pittsburgh with a thrilling Game 6 overtime victory to send them to the conference final for the first time in two decades. They propelled themselves over a hump that plagued them for years.
Like a weight had been lifted from their shoulders, Washington stormed out to a 2-0 series lead against the Tampa Bay Lightning. And then lost it, along with three consecutive games. But anchored by goalie Braden Holtby, they survived, again, with back-to-back shutouts.
Vegas’ road to the finals was an entirely different story.
Exploding into the NHL in their first year as an expansion team, the Golden Knights looked unstoppable throughout the playoffs. They swept the Los Angeles Kings, beat the San Jose Sharks, 4-2, and cruised past the Winnipeg Jets, 4-1.
They looked faster and smarter than everyone else and were poised to make their own history.
With firing offenses and crippling goaltending, Game 1 could have gone either way. Both sides seemed nervous, and Vegas came out on top, 6-4.
Then the Caps took control. Throughout the next four games, they played sharper than in the previous series. They were more physical, and no defensive matchup from Vegas was strong enough to halt players like Ovechkin, center Evgeny Kuznetsov and rising playoff star Devante Smith-Pelly.
“On paper, we are not as good as we were the last two years, but there is something special about this group,” said defenseman Matt Niskanen. “We just started to click in mid-March. We worked for each other. We won battles. We were committed to do whatever it takes.”
On final scores alone — 3-2, 3-1, 6-2, 4-3 — Washington dominated, but the Golden Knights had several key scoring chances they failed to capitalize on. In their 6-2 Game 4 loss, the Knights were inches away from having an early two-goal lead, especially when James Neal had a wide-open net on a power play and missed. Instead of a nail-biter, the Capitals left the first period up, 3-0.
Holtby stood on his head in heroic fashion — he finished with a 92.2 save percentage — while the Capitals relentlessly peppered shots against Vegas’ Marc-Andre Fleury, who shattered their ambitions so many seasons before with Pittsburgh.
The Golden Knights most certainly deserved to be in the finals, but the Capitals dictated nearly every element of the series. In five games, they crushed the expansion team that stormed through the best of the Western Conference. They placed their shots, killed penalties and got lucky with the puck bouncing their way a few times.
They finally played like the team they are on paper, and for once, the hockey gods seemed to be on their side.
So celebrate a D.C. championship and Ovechkin finally hoisting the Cup. Appreciate how the team’s past failures make this championship even sweeter, but don’t forget how commanding the Capitals’ Stanley Cup Final performance was.
This news has been published by title A Look Back On How Decisive The Capitals\' Stanley Cup Final Victory Was
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