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The goal against Columbus that saved the Capitals’ 2017-18 season

The goal against Columbus that saved the Capitals’ 2017-18 season

What was your favorite moment from the Capitals’ Stanley Cup run last season? There certainly are plenty to choose from.

There was Evgeny Kuznetsov’s overtime winner in Game 6 that eliminated the Pittsburgh Penguins, there was the Caps’ dominant performance in Game 6 and 7 to defeat the Tampa Bay Lightning in the conference final, “The Save” that clinched the Caps’ first ever Stanley Cup Final win and of course the Game 5 clincher which ended with the team hoisting the Cup.

Think about all of those moments. They almost didn't happen.

Despite all the success the team had, Washington very nearly saw its playoff run end in the first round at the hands of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Columbus stunned the Caps in both Games 1 and 2 in Washington to take a 2-0 series lead and put the Caps’ backs against the ropes. Game 3 in Columbus suddenly was a must-win for the Caps or they would fall to a 3-0 hole in which they would not have been able to crawl out of.

Twice the Caps took the lead in that game and twice the Blue Jackets responded. By the end of 60 minutes, the score was tied at 2 and Washington’s playoff fate would be decided by the next goal.

John Carlson was called for tripping Zach Werenski late in the first overtime. Columbus managed two great scoring opportunities, and Cam Atkinson beat Braden Holtby with the shot…but the puck hit off the post.

Soon after, it was Washington’s turn.

In the second overtime, the Caps carried the puck into the offensive zone on a three-on-two rush. Brett Connolly fired a shot on net that was saved by goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. Werenski tried to clear the puck out from in front of the net, but hit it off a charging Lars Eller. The puck bounced off him, then off Werenski, back off Eller again and slowly trickled in as both players locked sticks battling for the puck.

Game over.

The trajectory of both franchises changed in an instant.

Only four times in NHL history has a team ever come back from a 3-0 series deficit. Considering all the struggles Washington has had in the playoffs, it’s hard to imagine the Caps overcoming that deficit.

Columbus would have won a playoff series for the first time in franchise history, and who knows how far they could have gone after that.

Instead, Washington would go on to win four straight to defeat Columbus and continue on their run to the Stanley Cup. The Blue Jackets, meanwhile, now stand to lose possibly both Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovski in the offseason without even so much as a series win in the playoffs to show for it.

To win a Stanley Cup, a team has to win 16 games in the playoffs. Everyone remembers that 16th win, but It all starts with win No. 1. The Capitals return to the city and the building in which they earned that first win on Saturday (7 p.m., NBC Sports Washington) to play a team that they will now be forever linked to by history.

This is where the Caps started their Cup run, and this is where they left the Blue Jackets wondering what could have been.

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T.J. Oshie doesn't believe shootouts should dictate results in the Stanley Cup Playoffs

T.J. Oshie doesn't believe shootouts should dictate results in the Stanley Cup Playoffs

T.J. Oshie is no stranger to success in shootouts, especially in big games. Namely, his performance in the 2014 Sochi Olympics against Russia earned him that reputation.

If the shootout style was ever brought to the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the NHL, there's a chance that Oshie's name would once again be called upon. However, the Capital isn't set on that scenario becoming a reality. 

As of now, playoff matchups head into as many overtimes as needed rather than a shootout. While that can be draining for players, Oshie believes it is a more genuine way to determine results in the postseason. Hockey is a sport that forces a team to come together as a whole, and he feels that shootouts take that away.

“Selfishly I’d love to see it. But I just look back and see some of the games that went to five overtimes and played past midnight," Oshie told NHL on NBC during a re-airing of his performance in the 2014 Olympics. “In the playoffs you need everyone on the ice, everyone doing their job. The shootout just feels a little bit more one-on-one.”

"So I don’t think it has a place in playoffs," he added.

As Oshie noted, he could see the fun and excitement in having shootouts in the playoffs due to his personal success experiences in those moments. Yet, his time in postseason runs, including Washington's 2018 championship has given him a larger perspective on the grind that is the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

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The Capitals' Stanley Cup run was filled with grueling moments, but the success came from the team's effort altogether. Individual performances sparked big moments, but the Capitals were only as good as the sum of all their parts. To take that away in the biggest of moments is something that Oshie sees as wrong for the sport and the players who worked hard to get there.

“It’s just, after winning, I think you realize how much you need everybody playing well and so I think everyone deserves to play in those big moments," Oshie said.

So, while Oshie loves participating in late-game heroics, he'll take his chance at an overtime goal rather than a shootout. He does, however, understand that the continuation of the golden goal format could lead to more games with multiple extra periods. Though he is okay with those happening in place of a shootout, he also knows that he probably just talked himself into a lot more of those situations in the future.

“Watch I’ll go to like a five-overtime game and be dying an need an IV," Oshie joked. "And maybe change my tune.”

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T.J. Oshie had no nerves entering shootout with Russia in 2014 Sochi Olympics

T.J. Oshie had no nerves entering shootout with Russia in 2014 Sochi Olympics

As the United States and Russia entered the shootout period of the 2014 Olympic Games preliminary matchup tied 2-2, there was plenty of tension and nerves in Sochi.

T.J. Oshie, who was sent out for the first attempt, had the right to be as nervous as anyone. Skating on to the ice, he had the weight of a nation on his shoulders in a game that carried a history stemming from the Miracle on Ice. Yet, Oshie was as cool as the ground he was on. Rather than thinking about any outside noise, his only focus was on what he was going to do with the puck.

“Just my move. There probably wasn’t a time I was more confident than my first shot. I knew off the hop that I wanted to go five hole and that’s really all I had my mind made up for," Oshie told NHL on NBC during the re-airing of the infamous game on Saturday. "The first shot I was ready to go. I was excited to go out there and shoot first and put us up one.”

Oshie did just that on his first shot, giving the United States early momentum in the shootout. He would once again have his name called upon for the fourth attempt of the period. Though he was no longer setting the tone for the entire period, this is where Oshie more pressure.

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It wasn't solely because of the situation, but rather because he didn't want to lose the opportunity to shoot again down the line.

“I was most nervous for my second one because I felt if I missed I wouldn’t be going anymore," Oshie said.

He did miss the shot, but it was not the end for him. Rules allowed the U.S. to send the same player out there for each of the following rounds if they wanted, and head coach Dan Bylsma opted to stick with Oshie.

The rest is history, as in the eighth round Oshie's ability to find the back of the net ended up being the game-winner for the United States.

Despite the circumstances, Oshie never felt too nervous throughout the shootout period. Remaining calm and focusing on what he needed to do with his stick, he helped etch a spot for himself in the most memorable moments the sport of hockey has had to offer.

Stay connected to the Capitals and Wizards with the MyTeams app. Click here to download for comprehensive coverage of your teams.

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