The epic 2018 playoff run that saw the Capitals hoist the Stanley Cup for the first time in franchise history is certainly full of great moments and games. There's Lars Eller's double-overtime goal against Columbus that saved the season, Eller's Cup-clinching goal, Evgeny Kuznetsov defeating Pittsburgh in overtime, the list goes on and on. But when you are thinking about the top moments from the 2018 Cup run, don't sleep on Games 6 and 7 of the Eastern Conference Final as that was the best two-game stretch the Caps have played in the history of the franchise.
Sure, you could probably find games where they scored more goals, you could find games that were bigger nailbiters, you could find better individual performances from star players, but you will not find a more complete effort against great competition over the course of 120 minutes.
The conference final was new territory for Washington as the team had not made it that far since 1998. Sure, the Caps had just gotten past the Penguins, but they were playing a Tampa Bay Lightning team that, on paper, look far superior. Outside of Washington, not many believed the Caps would be able to stack up. The momentum from the previous round buoyed the Caps to a 2-0 series lead, but the Lightning quickly recovered to win three straight. Suddenly, Washington's magic run was one game away from ending. Somehow the Caps had to find a way to beat Tampa Bay not only once, but twice with Game 7 coming on the road.
With everything to lose in Game 6, Washington played one of the most brilliant games of hockey I have ever seen. They didn't run up the score, they didn't get a hat trick from Alex Ovechkin, it wasn't an overtime thriller, the Caps simply took one of the best teams in the NHL and dominated them in every facet of the game. While Tampa Bay may have had more skill, Washington was the more physical team and they let the Lightning know it in Game 6, hitting them at every conceivable opportunity to wear them down. The Caps out-hit the Lighting 39-19. Ovechkin led the way and was the best player on the ice that night despite not recording a single point. He led his team with his body and they responded.
Despite the incredible performance, for half of the game it looked like that might not be enough. Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy was unbeatable through 30 minutes and the score sat 0-0 midway through the second. In hockey, sometimes a team can do everything right and still lose because of a hot goalie and it began to look like Washington was in danger of that happening until T.J. Oshie struck on the power play late in the second. Devante Smith-Pelly would score one of his seven goals of the postseason in the third and Oshie added an empty netter to force a Game 7. When the Caps needed him to be perfect, Braden Holtby was as he outlasted Vasilevskiy with a sterling shutout performance.
Washington may have taken the first two games in Tampa Bay, but Game 5 was a win for the Lightning as Cedric Paquette scored just 19 seconds in. In Game 7, it was the Caps who struck early with Ovechkin firing a one-timer past Vasilevskity just 62 seconds in. Andre Burakovsky scored twice in the second period and it was over. The Caps would win Game 7 4-0 to punch their tickets to the Stanley Cup Final.
A power play that featured both Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov was shut down. One of the best offenses in the league was held off the scoresheet. One of the top goalies in the world was pierced again and again. Washington had to win two games against one of the best teams in the league, arguably the most talented. The Caps won both by a combined score of 7-0. It does not get more complete than that.
Winning the Prince of Wales Trophy as the conference champs obviously pales in comparison to the Stanley Cup, but the way in which the Caps won the conference should not be forgotten. That was the best 120-minute stretch of hockey from the Capitals we have ever seen.
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