• Top takeaways: After 44 years, 3,701 regular and postseason games and 28 playoff appearances — the most by an NHL, MLB, NBA or NFL team at the time of its first title — the Washington Capitals are Stanley Cup champions. (Read more)
• Highlights: Washington celebrated with its first Stanley Cup, the result of a third-period flurry highlighted first by a game-tying goal from Devante Smith-Pelly and then the winner off the stick of Lars Eller. (Read more)
This win was worth the wait
By Isabelle Khurshudyan
LAS VEGAS — Alex Ovechkin tossed off his helmet and gloves early, with his Washington Capitals less than a second away from winning the Stanley Cup. One last faceoff remained. The puck dropped, the clock stopped for good, and Ovechkin looked skyward — lifting his arms, running his fingers through his gray hair, perhaps disbelieving that a moment he seemed destined for had finally arrived 13 seasons into his NHL career.
The fans in the streets of Washington and those here in T-Mobile Arena did the same. They had been patient, too, waiting 44 years for the Capitals to be crowned Stanley Cup champions after they defeated the Vegas Golden Knights in five games with Thursday’s 4-3 win. Ovechkin skated to the glass and blew kisses to the crowd in appreciation.
Then Ovechkin turned to each of his teammates, screaming as he was asked by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman to lift the Stanley Cup for the first time. He screamed again when he touched it. He kept screaming when he raised it overhead.
The Capitals had been stained with the loser label since 1974-75, when the expansion team won just eight games, still the NHL’s worst campaign. Ovechkin’s arrival in 2004, drafted first overall, eventually brought more regular season success, and with a young superstar core of him and center Nicklas Backstrom, a first championship felt inevitable. Ovechkin has admitted that he treated it as such at times, perhaps taking for granted how hard it can be to win.
That lesson was learned with repeated playoff disappointments: Nine trips to the postseason ended short of the conference finals. Ovechkin’s leadership and commitment were questioned. It was fair to question whether Washington’s talented foundation was damaged — and whether this year was its last chance to prove it deserved to stay together.
It was fitting that the Capitals won their first Stanley Cup with Backstrom setting up an Ovechkin power-play goal. They have complemented each other for a decade, the flashy goal scorer in Ovechkin (named the Conn Smythe winner as playoff MVP) and the subtle and skilled setup man in Backstrom. They played on separate lines this postseason after years side by side, but they acknowledged each other at each step of this journey. Backstrom had to miss Washington’s clinching Game 6 win against Pittsburgh in the second round because of a right hand injury, but after the Capitals got past the Penguins for their first trip to the Eastern Conference finals in 20 years, Ovechkin hugged Backstrom in the dressing room. They shared another embrace on the ice when Washington won Game 7 against Tampa Bay in the conference final.
On Thursday night, after Ovechkin hoisted and kissed the Stanley Cup, he passed it to Backstrom, an acknowledgment of their long partnership.
This season started with the same Stanley Cup dreams, but perhaps the Capitals were the only ones who considered them realistic.
“We’re not going to be suck this year,” Ovechkin said on the first day of training camp. Washington couldn’t get past the second round with rosters that won the Presidents’ Trophy for the league’s best regular season title in back-to-back seasons, and after salary cap constraints coupled with the expansion draft caused significant roster turnover, there was little optimism that this would be the Capitals’ year.
Veterans were replaced with rookies and fringe NHLers. Winger Jakub Vrana, the team’s 2014 first-round pick, was counted on to produce offensively in his first full season. He endured goal droughts that lasted months, and he was a healthy scratch at the start of the playoffs. But on Thursday night, he scored the first goal of the game on a breakaway. Veteran Capitals have said the infusion of youth was a big reason for the team’s success; the youngsters didn’t know playoff heartbreak, playing without the burden of the organization’s tortured history.
The same could be said for the team’s unheralded free agent additions. At 25, Devante Smith-Pelly had his contract bought out by the New Jersey Devils, and he signed with Washington for the league minimum. It wasn’t clear whether he would even make the team out of training camp, but after Smith-Pelly scored seven goals during the regular season, he matched that total in the playoffs. His seventh goal and third in as many games came with 10:08 left in regulation Thursday, tying the score at 3.
Consider that this improbable run probably wouldn’t have lasted past the team’s first-round series had a puck not bounced off the thigh of Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Zach Werenski and then deflected off Capitals center Lars Eller in double overtime of Game 3, a wacky bounce that lifted Washington to its first playoff win. He secured the Capitals’ last playoff win, too, recognizing that a puck had squeaked through Vegas goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. Eller got his stick behind Fleury and swatted the puck into the net, the decisive goal with 7:37 remaining that lifted Washington to a 4-3 lead.
The rest was up to goaltender Braden Holtby. He wasn’t the starter when these playoffs began, supplanted by Philipp Grubauer because Holtby had struggled in the second half of the season. He reclaimed the net as the starter in Game 3 of the Capitals’ first-round series, when Washington was facing a two-game deficit after losing the first two contests at home. His redemption story modeled his team’s, rallying when he seemed down and out.
The Capitals were at a low when this season started. Their coach didn’t have a contract, and had Washington slipped into a significant losing streak, Barry Trotz might have been fired midseason. But for all of Washington’s bumps throughout the season — and there were definitely more bumps this year — the team was able to consistently pick itself back up.
The first 20 games had been an exercise in that, getting over the grief from another devastating early playoff exit.
“If you look at our playoff records and how we’ve been, it can’t get any worse,” Backstrom said in late March.
With the puck iced and less than a second left, Ovechkin took off his helmet, anticipating the celebration that was to come. He started jumping. On the ice, he found Backstrom, pulling him into a long embrace as they screamed in each other’s face.
By Neil Greenberg
1. Alex Ovechkin: power-play goal, 11 shot attempts, four scoring chances, two hits and two takeaways
2. Devante Smith-Pelly: goal, five shot attempts and three scoring chances
3. Lars Eller: goal and two high-danger chances
Vegas got back to what made it successful in the regular season and playoffs, a tenacious forecheck along the boards with solid play in the neutral zone, but it wasn’t enough. Jakub Vrana, after leading the team in scoring chances per 60 minutes of ice time all postseason, finally hit pay dirt in the second period, giving Washington its first goal of the game. Bottom-six forwards Devante Smith-Pelly and Lars Eller would give the Capitals their much needed third and fourth goals of the game, further showing why the Capitals depth was just too much for the Golden Knights defense to handle.
Alex Ovechkin also chipped in his 15th goal of the playoffs, a franchise record, and ended the series with three goals, two assists and a team-high 17 scoring chances, eight from the slot and the crease. A solid performance leading up to Washington’s first Stanley Cup in franchise history.
By Scott Allen
Finally: After 44 years, 3,701 regular and postseason games and 28 playoff appearances — the most by an NHL, MLB, NBA or NFL team at the time of its first title — the Washington Capitals are Stanley Cup champions. Drink it in, D.C. sports fans, because you deserve this. While D.C. United has won four MLS Cups since 1996, the District’s teams in the four major sports had combined to go 91 seasons without a title since the Redskins won Super Bowl XXVI in January 1992. The Capitals had never won a championship. Thanks to Lars Eller’s game-winning goal with 7:37 to play, the drought, at long last, is over, and it was okay to believe.
Alex Ovechkin, champion: Alex Ovechkin’s name was already etched in the NHL record books. Now it’ll be engraved on the Stanley Cup, cementing his legacy — if it wasn’t before — as one of the league’s all-time greats, and eliminating the possibility that he’ll retire as the best hockey player never to have hoisted his sport’s ultimate prize. Not that he’s shown any signs of slowing down. On his way to becoming the first Russian captain to win the Stanley Cup, Ovechkin broke John Druce’s 1990 franchise record for goals in a postseason with his 15th on the power play in the second period.
Holtby closes the door: It’s easy to forget that when these playoffs started what feels like six months ago, Braden Holtby was on the bench, backing up Philipp Grubauer. All the Capitals’ goalie did after being re-inserted in the lineup for Game 3 of the first round was go 16-7 and allow two or fewer goals in 12 of 21 starts. He allowed three on Thursday, but the first two were of the fluky variety, and he stopped all 11 shots he faced in the final 20 minutes. Holtby’s consecutive shutouts in Games 6 and 7 of the Eastern Conference finals paved the way for Washington’s first Stanley Cup finals appearance in 20 years. His mind-boggling denial of Vegas’s Alex Tuch in the final moments of Game 2 — a stop that will forever be known in D.C. sports lore as “The Save” — preserved the first of the Capitals’ four consecutive wins to clinch the title. Holtby improved to 5-0 this postseason in games in which the Capitals had a chance to close out a series or be eliminated.
Doing it on the road: As thrilling as it would have been for the Capitals to have clinched their first Stanley Cup title on home ice, it’s appropriate, and a lot less stressful for a fan base that has witnessed more than its fair share of blown 3-1 series leads, that they finished the job in Las Vegas. Washington became the fifth team in NHL history with 10 road wins in a single postseason. While becoming the third team win a title by clinching all four rounds on the road, the Capitals also joined the 1990-91 Pittsburgh Penguins as the only teams in league history to trail in a series in every round of the playoffs en route to winning the title.
The Capitals completed the task Thursday night, beating the Golden Knights, 4-3, to win the Stanley Cup. After the game, the players talked about their triumph as they clutched the league’s ultimate prize.
Caps Coach Barry Trotz told ESPN how happy — and relieved — he is, both for the players and the fans.
“Right now I’m so happy for this group because I know how much misery they’ve gone through, our fan base,” Trotz said. “I’ve been trying to change the narrative for a couple of years, and I’ve just so glad this group just got off the floor from last year, and they just said, you know what, it’s not going to happen anymore. Great job by everybody, they just got better and better, and just the resiliency that they’ve had to endure over the last how many years, and now they get it.”
Trotz caught up with the NBC Sports Washington crew later, summing up the Capitals’ journey through the playoffs.
“Tremendous achievement by the guys. Talk about all the things. we lose our first two home games against Columbus. We go into Pittsburgh trailing them with a couple of big pieces missing and beat them in their own rink. Go into Tampa where we never won any games and won two right at the start, then we lose some and have to battle back.
“Obviously this is a good Vegas team, and we trailed by one. People said we couldn’t win at home and we did that. So we checked off almost every box. I even heard people saying Caps are up 3-1 they’ll blow it again and I was like not a chance, that’s not going to happen”
General Manager Brian MacClellan lavished praise on the team he built, citing its character and resilience.
“I don’t know how you explain it. This was the team that played most like a team, in the end, or maybe it was what we went through the past couple of years to get to this point. I’m not sure how to explain it. Our group was mentally tough all year. They responded to things. It felt like from the beginning of the year we have a tough grind to get through, and maybe we were tougher mentally as a result.”
Vegas General Manager George McPhee, who was fired from the same role with the Capitals after 17 years following the 2014 season, had nothing but respect for his former team after Thursday’s game.
“They deserve it,” McPhee told NBC Sports Washington’s Joe Beninati. “They were much better than we were, and they were the better team. It’s just a hell of a team. Really a talented team, experienced team, gritty team, and they were really well coached.’
McPhee added that he was happy to see Ovechkin win a title.
“He took all the heat for so many years, and it was never his fault,” McPhee said. “He always played well, scored, and led the team in goals in the playoffs every year, but always took all the heat. I’m very happy for him that he’s finally won.”
Brooks Orpik, the only Capital to get a taste of what the Stanley Cup finals are like before this year, has himself another title.
“It’s surreal. It’s tough to describe, especially with the team we had the past couple of years. Obviously not getting it done with those groups. A lot of guys were a little uncertain this summer, we weren’t sure what the team was going to look like. I won it in Pittsburgh 8 or 9 years ago and it was a great group of guys. But, I don’t say this lightly, this is the best group of guys in my career. I think it was noticeable how guys stuck up for each other. Every game it seemed like a guy stepped up and no one cared about who gets the credit. That’s why we had so much success this year.”
Evgeny Kuznetsov, likely next in line for the Conn Smythe trophy had Ovechkin not brought it home, had plenty to say about the Caps’ win.
On winning: “I expected some emotional ride. After that final whistle I get so empty. I been dreaming about lifting Stanley Cup in front of my friends and family. It’s unbelievable, you can’t really say anything.”
On becoming one of the best players in the league: “It’s so easy when all five guys plays team hockey. When they share the puck, when we play for each other, it’s so easy to create offensive chances when everyone shares the puck and not selfish. It’s so easy.”
On Ovechkin: “It’s special for him. It’s so emotional.”
Of winning the Cup, Devante Smith-Pelly said, “It’s obviously a lifelong dream of everyone on the ice here, and to do it finally, it’s amazing.”
Smith-Pelly had as many goals (7) in 24 postseason games this year as he did in 75 regular season games, including a goal in each of the last three Capitals wins.
“Just trying to do my job,” Smith-Pelly said. “Like you said, the big guys are going to get their points. Us bottom-six guys, we knew if we contributed, those guys are going to score, and if we chipped in, we’re going to be successful. That’s all we tried to do.”
Of Ovechkin winning the Cup, he said:
“That picture of him lifting the Cup the first time is something I’ll remember always,” Smith-Pelly said. “He’s a super emotional guy, he gives it all. I just love the guy. He gave it all. You could see it every single night. He blocked a huge slapshot tonight, something that people said he wouldn’t do, and he did everything for this team.”
Lars Eller, the first Dane to ever win a Stanley Cup: “Too good to be true. You can dream about it but it’s writing the best ending to the story yourself. I’ve been a wreck all day. I couldn’t nap this aftnoon. But once the puck dropped I started feeling better and felt more comfortable.
Eller went on, discussing his role as a Capital: “It’s been a good fit for me from Day 1. They believed in me. I believed in me. Just a great fit with a great bunch of guys. I’ve felt at home since the day I got here”
“I think cleaning up the D-zone was a big part of this season,” said John Carlson, whose son, Lucca, kept adorably interrupting his dad’s interview with Jeremy Roenick by saying ‘Daddy! Daddy! “Ever since we did that we started playing a great brand of hockey. I think it blossomed into getting hot at the right time, and obviously having the talent to do it is big. Everything just seemed to work and the guys just worked so hard at it. It’s great.”
What does winning the Cup mean to the city?
“It gave us a big boost throughout the playoffs, just seeing our fans go wild at home when we weren’t home,” Carlson said. “We had so many fans here tonight, it was incredible. They deserve this just like we do.”
Tom Wilson on being down at end of the second period: “Not much was said. We have confidence in our group all year. We all kind of knew we were going to get the job done and it was going to end tonight. It was an unbelievable third.”
On doubting how good the Capitals were during the season, Wilson said: “Honestly I think you doubt it every day. Those thoughts cross your head. But we were confident and that overtakes everything. Obviously hockey is a crazy game and you never know what is going to happen. You’re aware of all the scenarios but it says a lot about this group.”
On winning, Wilson said: “Extremely fortunate. It’s a huge privilege. Everyone is playing for one thing. It’s a pretty special moment to share with these guys.”
Jay Beagle called winning the Cup “unbelievable. To watch Ovi lift that Cup and take it away, it’s been a long time and a lot of hard work, and obviously it’s the greatest feeling. It really is. This is something you dream about as kids and it’s incredible. It’s an incredible feeling. I can’t put it into words.”
Beagle also discussed Alex Ovechkin’s leadership and the role it played in the title.
“It happened around December, January, where we started to feel like family,” Beagle said. “We really did. It was a family atmosphere, and I think that came from when Trotzy came in and Ovi and the team bought into it. It took some years, but [Ovechkin] really stepped up. He’s always played unreal in the playoffs, but he was unreal this year, the defensive side of the puck, doing all the right things, a huge blocked shot here in the third. He was just sacrificing everything to win this.”
Braden Holtby spoke to NBC on the ice following the game and shared his thoughts on being a Stanley Cup champion.
On winning: “Its amazing. It even more amazing watching my teammates with it. We’ve been together forever and I’m proud of everyone here”
On being benched at the start of the playoffs: “Its part of being a professional, it’s part of being a team. I’m just happy to play in the NHL and work as hard as I can.”
On Alex Ovechkin: “He came in and he realized the league has changed and he changed as well. Hes been amazing for us. Hes just like the rest of us. We follow him. He knows one player doesn’t make a team.”
During an interview with NBC’s Jeremy Roenick, an emotional T.J. Oshie talked about what winning the Stanley Cup will mean to his dad.
“He doesn’t remember a lot of stuff these days,” Oshie said of his dad, Tim, who has Alzheimer’s. “He remembers enough, but I’ll tell you what, he’s here tonight. I don’t know where he’s at, but this one will stick with him forever, you can guarantee that.”
The order of the Cup: As is custom the captain, Alex Ovechkin, received the Stanley Cup from Gary Bettman, skating a very loud victory lap before handing it to Nicklas Backstrom. They in tandem passed it to Brooks Orpik, often derided by statistical types, but beloved inside the Caps’ locker room. It then passed to Matt Niskanen, followed by T.J. Oshie, Jay Beagle, John Carlson, Braden Holtby, Lars Eller (who scored the game-winner), Dmitry Orlov, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky, Michal Kempny, Devante Smith-Pelly, Brett Connolly, Jakub Vrana, Alex Chiasson, Philipp Grubauer, Chandler Stephenson, Christian Djoos, Madison Bowey, Nathan Walker (who became the first Australian player to ever lift the Cup), Travis Boyd, Jakub Jerabek, Pheonix Copley, Shane Gersich … and then finally Ovechkin finally took it for a lap with his team in tow.
Ovechkin then handed the Cup to Barry Trotz, one of the NHL’s all-time winningest coaches, who, to this point lacked a Stanley Cup on his resume. (He also lacks a contract for next year. Hmmm.)
“The great fans in Washington, D.C., have waited over 40 years for this moment,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said before presenting the Stanley Cup. “There could be no more dedicated and passionate owner than Ted Leonsis. Congratulations to him, to Dick Patrick and Brian MacLellan, to Barry Trotz and the coaching staff, but most of all, these great players did an amazing job, clinching each of the four series of these playoffs on the road. An amazing accomplishment. Capitals, you’ve had years of frustration, but here is the grandest celebration. You get to hoist the Stanley Cup. Alex Ovechkin, it’s your honor. Come on up.”
Ovechkin eventually handed the Stanley Cup to Nicklas Backstrom, his teammate of 11 years. Backstrom handed it off to Brooks Orpik, the only player on the Capitals’ roster who had previously won a title. –SA
Conn Smythe goes to … : Surprising no one, Alex Ovechkin was named MVP of the playoffs, securing the Conn Smythe trophy. Ovechkin finished as the postseason’s leading goal-scorer with 15. Evgeny Kuznetsov, may have given him a run for the money based on stats, but the award was never going anywhere other than into the arms of the Caps’ captain. Ovechkin, who had never made it out of the second round before this season, was all smiles as he made his way through the fourth and final happy handshake line of this incredible postseason run for the Capitals. – MH, SA
Time???: There is a clock malfunction in the arena and it was stuck on 1 minute. No one seems to know how much time remains. Meanwhile the teams battle on. The game could be over. Who knows. It’s anyone’s guess. – MH
Two minute warning: Washington is 2 minutes away from … you know. The Vegas Golden Knights, unrelenting to the last called their time out in preparation for a last gasp. The net is empty. Buckle. Up. – MH
Caps on top: The Capitals took a 4-3 lead with 7:37 to play when Lars Eller buried a Brett Connolly shot that just managed to squeeze through Marc-Andre Fleury’s pads and settled behind the Vegas goalie into the back of the net. – SA
So close: With less than nine minutes to play in the third, Evgeny Kuznetsov found Jakub Vrana wide open in front of Marc-Andre Fleury, but the man who opened the scoring for the Capitals with a snipe in the second period couldn’t get good wood on his attempt. – SA
Caps get the equalizer: With 10:08 remaining in the third period, Devante Smith-Pelly tied the game with his third goal in the last three games. Smith-Pelly kicked a rebound off a Brooks Orpik shot from the point onto his stick and whacked the puck past Marc-Andre Fleury as he fell to the ice. – SA
Flower in bloom: Marc-Andre Fleury is feeling it. After a previously underwhelming performance in the series, he’s stopped 16 of the 17 scoring chances he’s faced in Game 5. Braden Holtby, meanwhile, has stopped 18 of 21, with all three goals against coming in the slot or crease. One of those was a deflection off the skate of Matt Niskanen but Holtby also left a wide-open cage for David Perron. – NG
An important kill for the Golden Knights: The Capitals, who were 1 for 3 with the man advantage in the first 40 minutes, headed back to the power play less than six minutes into the third period on a hooking penalty by Tomas Tatar. The Vegas penalty-killing unit and Marc-Andre Fleury were up to the task again. Fleury slid over to squeeze an Alex Ovechkin whistler from the Capitals’ captain’s office, Washington’s only shot during the man advantage, to preserve Vegas’s 3-2 lead. – SA
Good chances at both ends: Marc-Andre Fleury and Braden Holtby came up with huge saves in the first two minutes of the third period on shots by Lars Eller and Colin Miller, respectively. With 16:41 to play, shots were even at 23. – SA
Changes not paying off for Vegas: The Golden Knights made some changes to their defensive pairings, opting to replace Nate Schmidt, Brayden McNabb’s regular partner, with Deryk Engelland. So far that experiment isn’t working. McNabb and Engelland have skated six minutes at even strength against Washington’s top line to disastrous results: six scoring chances, one from the slot, and a goal against.
Schimdt and Shea Theodore, on the other hand, have held the Capitals’ second line to zero scoring chances plus a goal against in five minutes of play. – NG
End of Period 2: Golden Knights 3, Capitals 2
After a scoreless first 20 minutes, the second period featured five goals, including three in a four-minute span. Jakub Vrana and Alex Ovechkin struck for Washington, the latter on the power play. Former Capital Nate Schmidt, David Perron and Reilly Smith scored for Vegas. Smith’s goal, the Golden Knights’ third with the man advantage in 16 opportunities this series, gave the home team the lead with 28 seconds remaining in the frame. – SA
Extracurricular activity: After Reilly Smith’s goal, Brooks Orpik and William Karlsson, who had been battling to the left of Braden Holtby exchanged shoves to the face. Players from both teams joined in the fray, leading to a massive pileup behind the net and a mess for the officials to sort out. After a few minutes of discussion, they decided not to send anyone to the penalty box. – SA
Vegas takes its first lead: With 2:14 to play in the second period, Alex Ovechkin tripped William Karlsson to break up a potential odd-man rush, putting the Golden Knights back on the power play. Unlike their first chance with the man advantage, Vegas actually managed a shot on goal. With 28 seconds to play in the frame, Alex Tuch sent a perfect pass to Reilly Smith off a rebound, and Smith buried the puck into a wide-open net. – SA
Another post: Chandler Stephenson appeared to have given the Capitals the lead again late in the second period, but his backhanded shot off a rebound with Marc-Andre Fleury out of position rang off the post. – SA
Tied up … again: Washington’s second lead of the game didn’t last three minutes. As Christian Djoos and David Perron battled for position in front of the net, Colin Miller threw a shot on goal that Tomas Tatar redirected past Braden Holtby. The Capitals challenged the goal, alleging that Perron, who was knocked off his skates by Djoos, had interfered with Holtby, but the call on the ice was upheld upon review. The goal was ultimately credited to Perron as it hit him while he was falling into the net. – SA
Ovechkin answers: Less than a minute after Nate Schmidt’s equalizer, Brayden McNabb was sent to the box for tripping. Alex Ovechkin then one-timed a pass from Nicklas Backstrom past Marc-Andre Fleury on the ensuing power play and Washington regained the lead. That’s 15 goals for Ovechkin during these playoffs, which breaks John Druce’s 1990 record for goals in a single postseason. – SA
All even: With 10:20 to play in the second period, former Capital defenseman Nate Schmidt scored the equalizer for Vegas when his shot from the point deflected off Matt Niskanen’s skate and past Braden Holtby. Schmidt’s third of the playoffs came moments after Christian Djoos threatened to give Washington a 2-0 lead with a nifty move that left Marc-Andre Fleury flat on his back and flailing in the Vegas crease. – SA
Capitals take the 1-0 lead: A Deryk Engelland shot whistled over top of the net ricocheted off the glass and led to a quick transition and breakaway for Jakub Vrana. The 22-year-old forward made the most of his chance, ripping a shot into the top right corner of the net past Marc-Andre Fleury’s glove to give the Capitals a 1-0 lead. Alex Ovechkin, who watched the entire play unfold from the bench, was elated. – SA
Caps survive a penalty: Vegas’s struggling power play unit hit the ice for the first time in Game 5 with 16:41 to play in the second period after Christian Djoos was whistled for high-sticking. The Golden Knights didn’t register a shot on goal over the next two minutes and are now 2 for 15 with the man advantage in the series. – SA
Another kill for the Golden Knights: Vegas, which killed off Washington’s only power play of the first period, found itself shorthanded again only 21 seconds into the second after Shea Theodore tripped T.J. Oshie behind the net. The Capitals spent more than a minute in the Vegas zone and had two good scoring chances, including a point-blank shot by Nicklas Backstrom that Marc-Andre Fleury turned aside. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare had a key block of an Alex Ovechkin slapper late in the man advantage to help keep the game scoreless. – SA
Powerful play: Washington getting some good looks on the power play. Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom both had solid chances and John Carlson is winding up with a slap shot almost any opportunity he gets. Alex Ovechkin is almost an afterthought, although he, too, is making sure the puck moves around to the other side. – NG
The commish is in the building: NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, who could make another appearance after the game if, well, you know, joined the NBC broadcast during intermission. Discussing Vegas’s surprising success as an expansion team, Bettman said he never worried about the Golden Knights being a smash hit at the box office. “On the ice, the goal was to make them competitive, and I guess we were successful,” he said. As for the Capitals, Bettman was impressed with the Game 5 scene inside and outside Capital One Arena. “Look at the fanbase in Washington and how the city has come together,” he said. It’s weird to hear Bettman talk without a background chorus of boos. – SA
Knights start strong: Vegas looked like a team in desperation mode during the first period, playing with an aggressiveness we haven’t seen over the past few games. Its forecheckers were strong on the boards and they were opportunistic in the neutral zone, forcing Washington to skate backwards for much of the period. But Washington still managed to take the lead in even-strength shots (9 to 6) and a 4-to-3 edge in scoring chances.
Alex Ovechkin, perhaps hearing line mate Evgeny Kuznetsov was more deserving of the Conn Smythe, led the team with two of those four scoring chances, and blue-liners Christian Djoos and John Carlson accounted for the other two. – NG
End of Period 1: Capitals 0, Golden Knights 0
A goalless start: For the fourth time in five games this series, the teams are knotted up after 20 minutes. This is the second time in the last three games that the first period hasn’t featured a goal.
Both teams had chances, with Alex Ovechkin’s power-play shot off the post perhaps the best of the bunch. Marc-Andre Fleury has turned away all 10 Capitals shots on goal. Braden Holtby has been just as sharp and finished with seven first-period saves. – SA
No scoring, but plenty of action: “Lots of Caps fans are here wearing red and they have made their presence known,” NBC’s Doc Emrick said late in the period. The “Go Knights Go” chants from the Vegas fans were still audible. With 2:46 to play in the first period, neither fanbase has had the opportunity to cheer a goal. Shots are 9-5 in favor of Washington, while the desperate Golden Knights have 17 of the game’s 27 hits. – SA
Tatar tries to do too too much: Vegas third-liner Tomas Tatar tried to finesse a pass instead of shooting the puck and it leads to a turnover when he had a great look from the slot. That’s not the way to endear yourself to the coaching staff after you’ve been riding the pine for most of the series. – NG
Ping!: The Capitals came within millimeters of taking a 1-0 lead when Alex Ovechkin one-timed a soft pass from John Carlson off the post. Washington managed only one shot on goal during its first power play, equal to the number that the Golden Knights had shorthanded. – SA
Ovi’s shadow: Alex Ovechkin has been shadowed for most of Washington’s power-play opportunties, this time by William Karlsson. The Capitals wisely tried to turn it into a 4-on-3 on the other side, utilizing John Carlson’s cannon of a shot from the point oto beat the Golden Knights penalty kill. Credit to Vegas penalty killers for getting a few good clears out of the zone. – NG
Caps to the power play: Special teams play was one of the keys to the Capitals’ Game 4 win, as they went 3 for 5 on the power play. Washington’s first chance with the man advantage in Game 5 came with 8:15 to play in the first period after Colin Miller was sent to the box for interference. – SA
Golden Knights are charging hard: Vegas is once again showing that aggressive forecheck along the boards that got the Knights to the Stanley Cup finals in the first place. Washington has been limited to one, perhaps two, chances to clear the puck before being put on their heels the other way. – NG
Still scoreless: The Knights have settled down since the first few minutes, and with 12:52 to play in the first period, shots were even at three apiece. Washington is 12-4 when scoring first this season, while Vegas is 11-2. With the Golden Knights facing elimination, it feels like the first goal in Game 5 could be especially important. – SA
Big hits: Tom Wilson has been active early on, leveling Lucas Sbisa and William Karlsson along the glass with hits 30 seconds apart. NBC’s Doc Emrick noted that Wilson’s second hit, which left Karlsson wobbly, was his 25th of the series. – SA
An early chance for Ovechkin: The Capitals have been slow out of the gates at times this series, but they looked strong to start the first period on Thursday. A little more than a minute in, Alex Ovechkin had the first solid scoring chance of the game, a shot from the shot that Marc-Andre Fleury gloved. Four minutes in, the only three shots on goal belonged to the Capitals. – SA
The pregame spectacle: Vegas-based band Panic! at the Disco played a pregame concert with the iconic Bellagio fountains as the backdrop, which made for a cool scene, despite some technical difficulties. Inside T-Mobile Arena, the Golden Knight dude we last saw before Game 2 defended Vegas’s fortress against five red-cloaked invaders from the East. “A knight never surrenders,” came a voice from above. “A knight never backs down. Tonight, we are all knights and we will not fail.” (Look, teams that trail a Stanley Cup finals series 3-1 have failed 32 out of 33 times.) The show ended when a huge, glowing knight’s helmet descended from the rafters. Let’s play some hockey. – SA
Fleury and Ovechkin say hi: It’s unclear if any words were exchanged, or if Marc-Andre Fleury simply took offense at Alex Ovechkin invading his personal space, but the Vegas goalie and Capitals captain had an interesting encounter during pregame warmups. – SA
Rocking the red in Sin City: The Golden Knights are 7-2 at T-Mobile Arena during these playoffs and were among the best teams in the league on home ice during the regular season, but it looks like an impressive number of Capitals fans made the trip to Las Vegas to potentially witness history. – SA
Packed streets: Fans who weren’t lucky enough to score tickets to the viewing party inside Capital One Arena (or just prefer watching playoff hockey al fresco) began claiming prime real estate outside the venue, where Game 5 was set to be shown on several screens, hours before puck drop. – SA
M-Y-S-T…I! C! S!: Fans began filing into Capital One Arena at 3 p.m. for an unprecedented D.C. sports double-header. First up was the Mystics-Lynx game, which was moved from 7 p.m. to 4 p.m. to accommodate the nightcap, the Capitals’ Game 5 viewing party. Entry was limited to those who purchased Mystics tickets or claimed one of the free viewing party tickets online. (Monumental Sports said more than 70,000 people logged on at 1 p.m. Wednesday when the tickets became available, and they were gone within 20 minutes.) The result was a significantly larger and louder crowd than usual to support the Mystics, who lost, 88-80, to the defending WNBA champions. – SA
Washington works the body: The Capitals are playing a very physical game against the Golden Knights. Washington has 151 shots and 85 blocks so far in the series, both numbers greater than what Vegas has done (134 hits and 41 blocked shots). Not surprisingly, Tom Wilson leads the team in hits (24) followed closely by Brooks Orpik (20) while Orpik shares the team lead for blocked shots (11) with Matt Niskanen and John Carlson, just one more than Michal Kempny. Even Ovechkin is willing to sacrifice his body for defense: he is tied with Devante Smith-Pelly and T.J. Oshie for the most blocked shots among Washington’s forwards with four. – NG
The depth advantage goes to Washington: The Capitals’ bottom-six — Andre Burakovsky, Lars Eller, Brett Connolly, Chandler Stephenson, Jay Beagle and Devante Smith-Pelly — have scored five goals with seven assists in four games. The Golden Knights’ bottom-six have four goals and three assists, leading to an overall 12 to 7 points edge for the Capitals. Washington’s defensemen also have twice as many goals (four) as Vegas blueliners (two). – NG
What once worked for Vegas is now broken: The Vegas Golden Knights were able to rise above their humble expansion beginnings and waltz through the Western Conference due in large part to the production from their top line and the miraculous goaltending performance of Marc-Andre Fleury. Unfortunately for them, neither has shown up for the Stanley Cup finals.
The Golden Knights’ top line of Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson and Reilly Smith outscored opponents 10 to 4 at even strength leading up to the series against Washington but has been outscored 4 to 3 by the Capitals. Fleury’s save percentage went from .947 against the Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks and Winnipeg Jets to a woeful .845 over the past four games. He’s stopped just 27 of 35 even-strength high-danger chances against. – NG
• Will the Caps stay unbeaten in elimination games? Washington has thrived in elimination games, carrying a 4-0 record. It clinched the first two series in Game 6’s on the road at Columbus and Pittsburgh, then won Games 6 and 7 of the Eastern Conference finals against Tampa Bay to advance to the Stanley Cup.
“We’re really enjoying putting in the work to get a result. That’s got to stay the same and I think it will. We’ve got a pretty good group in here,” said T.J. Oshie. “We’re really comfortable with the uncomfortable stages of the playoffs — whether our backs are against the wall against Tampa or an elimination game against Pittsburgh, we just seem to go out there from one shift to the next and try to take care of business.”
• Who will win the Conn Smythe? Should the Capitals win their first title, there would be an interesting debate on who would take home the Conn Smythe. Alex Ovechkin, who has tied a franchise record with 14 goals; Evgeny Kuznetsov, who has tallied 30 points, the most in the postseason; and Braden Holtby, who leads the payoffs with 15 wins and has delivered a number of memorable moments in this series, including “The Save” in Game 2.
• Can Fleury steal one? He has done it before. Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury is an old nemesis of the Capitals, but has failed to torment them in this Stanley Cup series. At least not yet. Through four games, he has allowed 16 goals on 103 shots (good for an .845 save percentage). That is a steep drop from his save percentage in the first three rounds of the playoffs (.946), when Fleury was arguably the most valuable player on any of the teams still skating.
His declined performance isn’t really his fault. The Golden Knights’ defense has been spotty in front of his net, and Fleury has faced a constant stream of high-grade chances since the series began. There is a chance, however, he gets hot and steals a result with those acrobatic saves that are burned into the Capitals’ once-tortured playoff history. It may be the imprecise formula for success for which the Golden Knights are desperately searching.
“There’s not a whole lot he can do with the goals,” Golden Knights Coach Gerard Gallant said Wednesday of Fleury. “I wish I could say Fleury hasn’t played well. He’s played good hockey. He’s a good goalie. He’s played real good for us, so our team has to play better defense in front of him.”
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