Bruins

It's the Caps' Cup! After 43 years, Washington on top of NHL

washington-capitals-alex-ovechkin-stanley-cup-60718.jpg
AP Photo

It's the Caps' Cup! After 43 years, Washington on top of NHL

LAS VEGAS -- Alex Ovechkin put both hands to his head and screamed while he left the bench and skated into the thick of the Washington Capitals' joyous celebration.

And right before Ovechkin hoisted the Stanley Cup, the Washington captain put both hands on his head again in a gesture of disbelieving ecstasy.

You can believe it, Ovi. So can the Washington fans whose championship drought is finally over.

After striving through 13 of his franchise's 43 seasons, the Russian superstar and the long-suffering Capitals are sitting on top of hockey for the very first time.

"It doesn't matter what happened before," Ovechkin said through his gap-toothed grin. "We just won it."

Lars Eller scored the tiebreaking goal with 7:37 to play, and the Capitals claimed their first NHL title with a 4-3 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday night in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final.

Ovechkin capped his playoff MVP campaign with an early power-play goal, and Devante Smith-Pelly tied it with a full-stretch goal midway through the final period of the Capitals' fourth consecutive victory over the Golden Knights.

"We did it," said Ovechkin, whose 15 playoff goals set a franchise record. "That's all that matters. Look at the smiles on my teammates. This is something you'll never forget. This moment, I'll remember for the rest of my life. I'm so happy. It's unbelievable."

Vegas' incredible expansion season finally ended, and so did the Capitals' wait for a title since their debut in 1974. But after so many years of crushing disappointment for a team with a lengthy history of postseason failure, these Caps confidently won their fourth consecutive closeout game with a tenacious third-period comeback in Vegas.

Ovechkin and his teammates are Washington's first championship hockey team - and their city's first champion in a major pro sport since the Redskins won the Super Bowl in early 1992.

"It doesn't come easy," said goalie Braden Holtby, who made 28 saves while outplaying three-time Stanley Cup champion Marc-Andre Fleury in the opposite net one final time. "It took years. Years of heartbreak. Years of breaking things down and trying again, breaking things down and trying again, and this group never gave up. And we finally did it."

After Ovechkin accepted the Conn Smythe Trophy, he received the Cup from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. Ovechkin shouted "Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!" before skating away and hoisting the prize over his head for a victory lap in front of thousands of red-clad fans.

When a succession of teammates finally got the Cup back to Ovi, he handed it to Ted Leonsis, the Caps' owner since 1999.

"I'm so happy for the group that has gone through the misery," said Washington coach Barry Trotz, a first-time champ in his 19th season behind an NHL bench and a potential free agent without a contract for next season.

The Caps couldn't win a Cup without a little late weirdness, however: The game clock stopped working on the T-Mobile Arena scoreboards during the final minutes, and the Capitals angrily protested while they played on. Vegas never got close to a tying goal despite both teams getting an extra chance to rest while the officials checked on the timing. The clock finally hit zeros, allowing the Caps to storm the ice behind their net for a frenzied celebration.

Reilly Smith scored a go-ahead goal late in the second period for the Golden Knights, who won seven of their first eight home playoff games before dropping the last two.

"When you get this close to the Cup, it's hard," Fleury said. "Doesn't happen too often. It's very disappointing."

The defeat ended the storybook inaugural season of the Golden Knights, who became the NHL's 31st franchise last fall and immediately launched into arguably the greatest debut in modern pro sports history. Few expected the division title they delivered, and fewer still thought Vegas could challenge for a championship.

Nate Schmidt and David Perron also scored deflection goals for Vegas in the second period, but Fleury's 29 saves included a stopped puck that dropped underneath him where Eller could sweep it home for the Cup-winning goal.

"It means everything," Eller said. "You couldn't write the story better. If you're going to win on the road, I couldn't imagine a better place to do it."

Forward T.J. Oshie spent a moment in the celebration looking up for his father, Tim, who he said was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.

"He doesn't remember a lot of stuff, but he's going to remember this," Oshie said. "I've never seen a team come together like we did here. I've never seen the commitment from start to finish like we had here."

Washington's win was its 10th on the road in this postseason, tying the NHL playoff record and illustrating the superior toughness of this team. While past editions of the Caps created their team's reputation for postseason flops in part by losing five playoff series in which they had won three of the first four games, Ovechkin's latest group promptly closed out all four of its series this year on the very first try.

The Caps also came back from series deficits in all four rounds and clinched all four series on the road.

The remarkable Golden Knights hadn't lost four consecutive games in their entire inaugural season before the Caps rolled them.

"It's going to be a tough couple days," Vegas defenseman Deryk Engelland said. "You never want it to end like this."

The Capitals had thousands of fans in the Vegas crowd and a building full of supporters watching back home along with countless thousands outside in the crowded D.C. streets. They got a barn-burner of a finale befitting this thrilling series, with wild shifts of momentum before that bizarre clock incident that didn't appear to affect the outcome much.

The Capitals' triumph also adds another chapter to a stretch of sweet relief for long-suffering, loyal sports fans across North America. The NFL's Philadelphia Eagles won their first Super Bowl in February, and baseball's Houston Astros won their first World Series last November.

First-time titles are all the rage, and Ovechkin and the Caps have paid their dues for this one.

Ovechkin, who turns 33 later this year, has been among the most exciting and productive players in his sport since joining the Caps in 2005. Yet for all of his goal-scoring prowess and athletic swagger, the Great Eight had never won an Olympic gold medal or a Stanley Cup title.

But after becoming the fifth player in the last quarter-century to score at least 15 goals in a postseason, Ovechkin is a champion at last. He also became the first Russian captain to raise the Cup in NHL history.

The title is also validation for Holtby, who has spent his entire NHL career in Washington. After several seasons of being measured unfavorably against Fleury and other goaltending greats despite his 2016 Vezina Trophy, the Saskatchewan native also has his long-sought ring - and his unbelievable stick save on Alex Tuch in Game 2 will ring forever in Caps history.

Ovechkin put the Caps up 2-1 in the crazy second period of Game 5 when he set up in his customary spot in the left faceoff circle and put Nicklas Backstrom's cross-ice pass into a sliver of open net. But after Perron tied it with a deflection goal while falling into Holtby's net, Smith scored into an open net after Ovechkin went to the penalty box for tripping.

Washington pressed early in the third, but didn't connect until Brooks Orpik flung the puck at the net against the run of play. Smith-Pelly barely controlled the puck and stretched out to fling it toward the net while falling face-forward, and it slipped inside Fleury's post for the veteran forward's seventh goal of the postseason - matching his total from the entire regular season.

"I've been dreaming about it since I was a little kid," Smith-Pelly said. "The team, with so much change, you didn't know what to expect. We knew we could do something special, and we did."

Moments later, the Knights struggled to keep up with the Caps' puck movement and left Brett Connolly open for a shot. Fleury stopped it, but the puck fell to the ice underneath him - and Eller fought off Luca Sbisa and slapped the puck into the net for the game winner.

NOTES: Washington is the 19th active franchise to win the Stanley Cup. The Caps were tied for the fifth-longest active Cup drought with Philadelphia, which won it in 1974. ... Ovechkin has 26 points in 26 potential series-clinching games in his career. ... The Knights made two lineup changes from Game 4, inserting Perron and William Carrier while scratching Ryan Reaves and Ryan Carpenter. Carrier hadn't played since the second round against San Jose, while Perron was a healthy scratch for only one game. ... The Knights scored eight goals in their four consecutive losses.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE


 

Haggerty's Talking Points: Torey Krug's offense shines, David Pastrnak enduring first rough patch

Haggerty's Talking Points: Torey Krug's offense shines, David Pastrnak enduring first rough patch

GOLD STAR: Jonathan Toews hasn’t had a great season as evidenced by just five goals on his ledger for the year, but he had a nice little throwback performance against the Bruins on Thursday night. Toews stripped David Pastrnak of the puck in overtime and then scored on a breakaway at the other end of the ice for the game-winner in a neat little dispatching of the B’s in the extra session.

Toews finished with three shots on net, six shot attempts, three hits, a couple of takeaways and a couple blocked shots to go along with 17-of-28 face-off wins in 19:37 of ice time for the Blackhawks. It was a vintage Toews performance for Chicago in a win for the Blackhawks and it’s something that hasn’t happened nearly enough for him this season.

BLACK EYE: David Pastrnak is going through his first tough stretch of the season. He finished with more giveaways (three) than shots on net (two) and also took a pair of minor penalties while pretty clearly getting frustrated with the rough treatment he’s getting from opponents.

It was Pastrnak that went down in overtime with the puck – either by a trip from Jonathan Toews or a flop looking for a call depending on who you are talking to – and created the game-winning goal for Toews at the other end of the ice. Pastrnak has now gone two games without a goal for just the third time all season and is now falling off his 70-goal pace for the season while seemingly getting frustrated by being targeted by the other teams.

TURNING POINT: For the Bruins it was the ends and beginnings of periods where they lost their focus and lost the game. The Bruins allowed two goals in 37 seconds in the closing minutes of the first period to dig themselves a considerable hole against the Blackhawks, and then they coughed up another goal to Chicago in the first 17 seconds of the third period to go down by a 3-0 score.

People will want to talk about the play in overtime that lost it for the Bruins, but it was their wandering focus at points in regulation that ended up saddling them with the loss when it was all said and done. The Bruins eventually lost in OT, and they really deserved to lose based on the way they played for the first 45 or so minutes of the game.

HONORABLE MENTION: Torey Krug scored the game-tying goal for the Bruins in the closing minutes of the third period and deserves the credit for stepping up offensively when the team needed a big play.

Krug finished with the goal along with a team-high seven shots on net and nine shot attempts in 21:28 of ice time. Krug also threw a hit and had a couple of takeaways while generating secondary offense for the Bruins, given that both Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak have slowed down a little bit in recent days.

It’s going to be interesting to see where Krug is at offensively by the end of the season based on a pretty decent start compared to the very, very slow ones he’s had in recent seasons while coming back from injuries.

BY THE NUMBERS: 12-0-5 – the Bruins continue to have gone without a regulation loss on the home ice at TD Garden after dropping another overtime decision, this time to the Blackhawks after crawling back from a 3-0 hole in the third period.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “Complacency? I would say no. Lack of urgency some nights? I would say yes. We’re not pushing as hard as we need to to get to our level. Is that because of where we are [in the Atlantic Division standings], is that because of last year, is that because we feel like we’re a good enough team that we can flip a switch? Probably bits and pieces of all those things, I’m not going to deny it. Our job is to make sure we don’t get complacent. I don’t think we have been, to be honest with you. I think it would show in our record if we were.” –Bruce Cassidy, when asked if he needs to guard against complacency setting in with the Bruins based on their huge lead in the Atlantic Division.

HAGGERTY: Bruins should use a Hall pass on Devils star>>>

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.

NHL Highlights: Torey Krug ties it to finish comeback but Bruins fall in OT

NHL Highlights: Torey Krug ties it to finish comeback but Bruins fall in OT

FINAL SCORE: Blackhawks 4, Bruins 3

IN BRIEF: The Bruins mounted a furious three-goal comeback in the third period to take the Blackhawks to overtime. Torey Krug notched the game-tying goal shortly after Chris Wagner cut the Blackhawks lead to one. The Blackhawks would win shortly into overtime, but the Bruins salvaged a point from the game and ensured their home point streak would stay alive.

BOX SCORE

BRUINS RECORD: 20-3-6 (46 points)

HIGHLIGHTS

RYAN CARPENTER STRIKES FIRST SHORTHANDED

DYLAN STROME MAKE IT 2-0 ON A CHICAGO POWER-PLAY

ALEX DEBRINCAT EXTENDS THE LEAD TO THREE

JOAKIM NORDSTROM TIPS HOME BRUINS FIRST GOAL

CHRIS WAGNER CUTS THE LEAD IN HALF

TOREY KRUG WITH THE IMPROBABLE GAME-TYING GOAL

JONATHAN TOEWS ENDS IT IN OVERTIME

UP NEXT:
Vs. Colorado Avalanche, Saturday, 7 p.m., NESN

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.