How the Washington Capitals won the 2018 Stanley Cup
How the Caps won the Stanley Cup
For the first time ever, the Washington Capitals are Stanley Cup Champions.
The postseason path to the top was a long and arduous one that stretched four series and 24 total games.
Let's look back on the Caps' two-month run and study how they managed to finally win the Cup.
Ovechkin was a man on a mission
Alex Ovechkin would not be denied in these playoffs.
His 15 goals set a franchise record for most in a single postseason and sit just four shy of the all-time record of 19 set by Reggie Leach (1976) and Jari Kurri (1985).
He ultimately finished second on the team in points with 27, but even when he wasn't producing, he was still having an impact with his physical play and the 100-percent effort he gave on both ends of the ice.
For his efforts, he was awarded the Conn Smythe.
Kuznetsov's historic postseason
Evgeny Kuznetsov was the Caps' most consistent player throughout the postseason in his breakout performance that turned heads across the hockey community. His 32 points are the second most in a single postseason (1997).
Kuznetsov scored the overtime winner to dispatch the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 6 and recorded not one, but two four-point games.
The switch back to Holtby
Barry Trotz elected to go with the hot hand in net heading into the playoffs which meant Philipp Grubauer was the team's starter. It didn't last long.
Braden Holtby came on in relief in Game 3 of the team's first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets and he started every game for the rest of the postseason.
The Caps were 0-2 in the games he did not start, 16-6 in the games he did.
He was the better goalie in every series he played in, finishing with a 2.16 GAA and .922 save percentage overall.
Eller's overtime winner
It's easy to forget now given how things turned out, but the Caps were in trouble at the start of the playoffs.
Washington dropped both Game 1 and Game 2 to Columbus at home and Game 3 went into overtime. Lars Eller finally scored the game-winner in double overtime, thus saving the Caps' season.
Had the Blue Jackets won Game 3 to gain a 3-0 series lead, it's hard to imagine Washington being able to recover.
One of the Achilles' heels of the postseason for Washington of late has been speed. The Caps simply did not look comfortable playing against speedy teams in the past, but with teams across the league continuing to put a premium on speed, the Caps were going to have to adjust.
Thus, they adopted the trap.
This helped slow the game down tremendously and, when teams were able to actually get into the offensive zone, every player on the team was selling out to get into shooting and passing lanes.
This strategy of the neutral zone trap is trick.
Ovechkin's late Game 3 winner in Pittsburgh
In their series with the Penguins in both 2016 and 2017, the Caps lost three of the first four games and found the resulting deficit insurmountable.
In Game 3, the score was tied late with overtime looming. A late two-on-one opportunity with Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin gave Washington one last shot to win it in regulation.
Goalie Matt Murray made the initial save, but Ovechkin batted the puck out of midair past the helpless goalie giving the Caps their second win of the series.
Game 6 against Pittsburgh
Washington had a chance to close out its series against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 6, but the odds were stacked against them.
With no Nicklas Backstrom (injury), Andre Burakovsky (injury) or Tom Wilson on the ice, a Game 7 seemed almost inevitable. But Barry Trotz devised a masterful game plan that emphasized defense first.
Alex Chiasson scored in the second period and Evgeny Kuznetsov finished off the Penguins with his overtime winner and patented bird dance.
As good as the Caps played to beat Pittsburgh, they played their best hockey of the postseason after defeating their archrivals in the second round.
That's because they were a confident team after getting over both the second round and the Penguins hump that had plagued them for so many years.
Tampa Bay was a better team on paper, but the Caps were a much more confident one and they played like it in both the Conference Final and the Stanley Cup Final.
Shocking the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 1 and Game 2
It's a good thing too because the Caps needed those two games to win after the Lightning rebound with three straight wins of their own.
The Caps' response to facing elimination
Washington faced elimination in exactly two games this postseason, Game 6 and Game 7 of the conference final.
The Caps responded in that Game 6 with their best game of the postseason. They played an aggressively physical style that seemed to rattle the Lightning and clearly left them a bit battered and beaten in the resulting Game 7.
Holtby's consecutive shutouts
Like just about everyone on the Caps, Braden Holtby has faced criticism in the past for not coming up big when the team needed him in the postseason.
In the two games the Caps faced elimination this postseason, Holtby made 53 total saves and did not allow a single goal in either game as he posted consecutive shutouts in Game 6 and Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final.
There are two iconic moments from the Caps' postseason run that will always be remembered. One was Kuznetsov's overtime winner to beat the Penguins.
Nicknamed as simply "The Save" Holtby made a diving save with his stick to deny Alex Tuch on what looked like an open net. The save preserved Washington's one-goal lead and allowed the Caps to escape Vegas with a 1-1 series split.
The Caps would go on to win their next three after to claim the Cup. Had Tuch scored the goal, he would have tied the game late in the third period giving the Golden Knights a chance to win.
Who knows what would have happened had Vegas swept both Game 1 and Game 2?
The power play
Typically, the power play turns into a non-factor in the playoffs as referees tend to call fewer and fewer penalties.
The Caps' power play, however, produced at an incredible 29.3-percent. Washington scored five goals in five games with the extra man against Vegas.
It was even more lethal in the first round with nine power play goals in six games.
When the Caps were eliminated by the Pittsburgh Penguins last season, one of the main reasons why is because they got zero scoring production from their bottom-six players. That was not a problem this postseason, and it's a major reason why the Capitals are the Stanley Cup champions.
Devante Smith-Pelly had seven goals all season, but recorded seven more in the 24 games of the playoffs.
Jakub Vrana played his way into a second-line role with his production and was the temporary solution at wing on the top line when the team was without Tom Wilson due to suspension.
Andre Burakovsky scored twice in Game 7 to lead the Caps to the Eastern Conference win.
It is the defining characteristic of this year's postseason run and the biggest difference between this year's Caps and the teams from previous years that fell short.
It would have been very easy for the Caps to pack it in after going down 2-0 to Columbus in the first round. At that point, it was hard to believe they could come back and win four straight.
It would have been easy to believe the Pittsburgh Penguins again had Washington's number after a five-minute flurry in the first period turned what looked like a sure win into a one-goal defeat.
If would have been easy to give up after Tampa Bay won three straight, admire how far they made it this season given they had advanced past the second round.