The Capitals clinched the team's first Stanley Cup in franchise history on Thursday with a 4-3 Game 5 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights.
It didn't come easy.
Despite being down 3-1 in the series, the Golden Knights gave everything they had on Thursday and for 40 minutes, it looked like that would be enough to force a Game 6. But the Caps battled back with an incredible third period to finish off the series.
Here is how Washington did it.
Ovechkin single-handedly giving Washington back the lead
Nate Schmidt pulled Vegas even with Washington in the second period, but Ovechkin made sure the tie did not last for long. Off the ensuing faceoff, Ovechkin drew a trip from Brayden McNabb and then scored on the resulting power play.
It took Ovechkin just 34 seconds to restore the Caps’ lead.
A different third period
Despite Washington taking a 1-0 and 2-1 lead, things did not look good after 40 minutes. The Caps trailed 3-2 heading into the final frame and Vegas was dictating the pace of the game. The teams were playing back and forth hockey as both teams sped up and down the ice, a style that very much favored the Golden Knights.
The back and forth attacks and counter-attacks spread the Caps out, not allowing them to trap on the blue line or clog up the area in front of the net, two areas in which the Caps had dominated throughout the series.
Things changed in the third period.
The Caps took control of the game in the final 20 minutes, outscoring Vegas 2-0 and slowing down the pace of the game more to the style that had allowed them to take control of the series. After blocking six shots all game long, the Caps blocked seven in the third period as they finally got back between the Golden Knights and the puck, stifling Vegas' offense.
Devante Smith-Pelly’s spectacular goal
As well as the team started to play in the third period, the true turning point of the game was a jaw-dropping goal from Smith-Pelly that tied the game at 3.
Brooks Orpik managed to keep in the puck on the blue line as Vegas attempted to clear the zone. He flung it back into the zone past the defense and right to the skates of Smith-Pelly. Smith-Pelly kicked the puck out in front of him then dove to shoot it past the outstretched pad of Marc-Andre Fleury.
The goal was Smith-Pelly’s seventh of the postseason, after scoring seven in the regular season.
A heads-up play by Lars Eller
How many players score a goal from behind a goalie? Eller did on Thursday for what would prove to be the game and Stanley Cup-winning goal.
Brett Connolly fired a shot on Fleury that looked like he would be able to save fairly easily. Eller, however, who was behind the goal line, never quit on the play and kept his eye on the netminder. When the puck trickled through Fleury and stopped just behind him, Eller spotted it before anyone else, gained inside positioning on Luca Sbisa and tapped the puck into the empty net from behind Fleury.
The Caps' four goal scorers on the night were Ovechkin, Smith-Pelly, Eller and Jakub Vrana. One forward from each of the Caps’ four lines found the back of the net on Thursday reflecting the advantage Washington had over the Golden Knights in scoring depth.
What was lost in Vegas’ impressive postseason run was the fact that the Caps’ roster was far superior in terms of depth. In terms of pure talent, the Caps had the edge over the Golden Knights on every single line. Through three rounds, Vegas was able to cobble together a team effort mixed with phenomenal goaltending to mask any deficiencies on the roster. That formula was good enough to get them to the Final, but when Fleury no longer looked otherworldly, the Golden Knights’ scoring depth proved unable to carry the load.
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