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.
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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