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A Comprehensive Look at the Caps’ Road to the Stanley Cup

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A Comprehensive Look at the Caps’ Road to the Stanley Cup

Photo by: NHL.com

Photo by: NHL.com

Photo by: NHL.com

As any D.C. sports fan knows, the road to a championship is long, bumpy, and for many teams, seemingly never-ending. This year, the Capitals made history.

Washington D.C. has long been a city synonymous with sub-par sports teams. Brief speckles of success in the ’80s and ’90s were encouraging but failed to repair a reputation of failure. Now, 26 years later, the Washington Capitals are poised to bring a championship back to the nation’s capital.

The Alexander Ovechkin era of D.C. hockey has been a tough one for the Washington Capitals. Despite having the best player in franchise history and the best goal scorer of the modern NHL, the Capitals have fallen short in previous years. But this year was different. The Capitals no longer carried the same swagger as they did in years past. This Capitals team has adopted a new style of play, based on defensive discipline and opportunistic offensive skill. The Capitals usual big names are playing hard; Ovechkin, Backstrom, Carlson, Oshie, Holtby. Evgeny Kuznetsov has grown into the first line center he was destined to be. The Capitals also have new found depth in their offense and the trade deadline addition of Kempney has added a solid sixth defensemen to the lineup. Here’s how it went down.

1st Round

The first target was the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Blue Jackets are officially the least successful team in the NHL (that includes Vegas) since they are the only team that has never won a playoff series. They have no top line centers, no offensive depth, and a goaltender who chokes in the playoffs. But what appeared to be an easy target, quickly turned around and beat the caps in the first two games in D.C. Trailing 2-0, Alex Ovechkin, in his greatest moment as a captain, guaranteed that the caps would win both games in Columbus and return home with the series tied. The Capitals rode the backs of their stars and Braden Holtby to win four straight games and advance to round two.

2nd Round

Next on the kill list is the arch nemesis. The demonic pain that has kept the Capitals from success — the Pittsburgh Penguins. Deep offense and high-end talent will be the Penguin’s main assets, as well as their young goaltender Matt Murray. The Penguins beat the Capitals in D.C. in game one. The experts react saying this is the same old Caps team that get rattled easily and can’t get around the Pens. But the Caps displayed tremendous mental resilience and stayed in the fight, trading games with the Penguins until game six. The Capitals lead the series 3-2. A win will push them to a place they haven’t been in 20 years. It goes to overtime, Holtby stays strong, and suddenly Kuznetsov emerges from the neutral zone with unmatched speed. He’s on a breakaway against Murray. He dekes and scores exorcising the demons and striking down the Penguins in what at the time was possibly the greatest goal in Washington Capitals history.

Conference Final

Now for the first time in a while, the Capitals are supposed to lose. The Tampa Bay lightning have been building to win a cup for the last decade. They have one of the best offenses in the league; they made trades to establish the league’s best defensive core, and they are backstopped by the young star goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy. They made short work of the New Jersey Devils and won four straight to beat the Boston Bruins. This is the Lightning’s year. The Capitals came out blazing in the first two games in Florida, winning both games. Unfortunately, their two-game lead dissipated in a matter of days as the Lightning won three straights to take the lead. This is the Capitals greatest test so far. If they lose in either of the next two games, their season is over. They pulled together to shut out the Lightning in both game 6 and game 7. For only the second time in franchise history, the Capitals are going to the Championship.

Stanley Cup Final

If you thought the Caps making it to the finals was unlikely, you haven’t seen anything yet. Emerging from the western conference is the expansion team, the Vegas Golden Knights. They are having the most successful inaugural season in NHL history. Their road to the final was just as tumultuous as that of the Caps. They are on the brink of making history. Two teams enter, one team leaves.

Game 1

T-Mobile arena in Las Vegas is electric. The pregame show is gratuitous and cheesy, but nonetheless it is time to kick off the series. The game begins in spectacular fashion with a flurry of goals. Same story in the second, and at the end of two periods, the score is tied 3-3. The third period would not go well for the Capitals, and following a questionable non-call on Vegas Forward Ryan Reaves, the Caps fall in game one by a score of 6-4.

Game 2

The Caps are down but not out. They have come from behind in every series in these playoffs, and they are confident that they can do it again. The first period is slower, as both teams have worked to tighten up their defenses. Now in the third period the Capitals lead 3-2 with only minutes left in the game. Vegas is coming with everything they got. They capitalize on a turnover, and Alex Tuch has a wide-open net and a chance to tie the game. And then Braden Holtby did it. He made a save. The Save. The Ultimate Save. The save to end all saves. The single greatest save in Washington Capitals history. The capitals escape game two with a 3-2 win.

Game 3

The Stanley cup final is in D.C. Capital One Arena is filled to capacity with loyal fans hoping for a win. They would not be disappointed. The Caps play one of the most dominant games of these playoffs and after goals from Ovechkin and Kuznetsov take the lead in the series with a 3-1 win. It is the first Stanley cup final home win in Franchise history.

Game 4

The Caps lead the series by one game and have an opportunity to get some breathing room. The game is won in the first period as Oshie, Wilson, and Smith-pelly all score. The Caps keep things rolling in the next two periods and are able to score six times on Marc-andre Fleury on their way to 6-2 win.

Game 5

The caps are within striking distance. One more win and they do what no D.C. sports team has done in 26 years. The first period is scoreless, but the heightened intensity is evident. Jakub Vrana gets the Caps going with a goal, but the Golden Knights respond quickly with a goal by former Capital, Nate Schmidt. The teams trade blows, but the second period ends with the Caps trailing 3-2. The Capitals need a good period, and they will get it. Halfway through the 3rd, Devante Smith-Pelly strikes with an impressive goal to tie the game. Just three minutes later Lars Eller becomes the first Danish player to score in the Stanley Cup Final and puts the Caps up 4-3. Time ticks away as Braden Holtby and the Caps defense hold strong. Eventually, the clock reads 0:00 and the Washington Capitals have done it.

For the first time in their 44-year history, the Capitals are Stanley Cup Champions. The Playoff MVP goes to the Captain Alex Ovechkin, but he doesn’t care, he is ready to do the thing he has dreamed about since he was a little boy back in Russia. With one thunderous and triumphant yell, Alex Ovechkin raises the cup over his head in what is the greatest D.C. sports moment in the past 20 years.

I’d end my article here but that would be an injustice to the story of the Caps, and I’d be depriving you of what the NHL has recognized as the most extravagant and boisterous celebration in cup history. After partying for one night on the Vegas strip, the Capitals partied on their flight back to Dulles, on the tarmac, and then throughout Washington D.C.

They went to multiple bars and partied in the streets with fans. Ovie never put the cup down. They went to a bar in Georgetown where they spent at least $10,000 on champagne, rolled around in a fountain for a while and then went in search for more beverages.  Soon, it became their second straight night of partying. A few bars, and a sunrise later the Capitals went to watch a Nationals game in a skybox with the cup. The proceeded to celebrate for nine innings and sing “We are the Champions” for the thousandth time. Then they went back into the city to find the last few bars they hadn’t visited. It’s safe to say that the majority of the team hasn’t been sober in five days.

But they have earned their lavish celebration. They have brought a championship back to the city that hasn’t felt victory in over two decades. They repaired a reputation of failure. The have brought the Stanley Cup to Washington D.C.

 

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