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On Stanley Cup anniversary, a behind-the-scenes look back at Caps’ memorable night in Vegas

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On Stanley Cup anniversary, a behind-the-scenes look back at Caps’ memorable night in Vegas

Even as they celebrated winning the Stanley Cup exactly one year ago last June 7, all smiles and hugs and jubilation on the ice at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, the Capitals knew the moment was fleeting and precious. 

It took 44 years for the organization to finally win the Cup. For Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, it was earned after a decade of playoff heartbreak. For Barry Trotz it came only after 20 years as an NHL head coach. 

But even as the celebration raged, with thousands of Capitals fans in the building moving down to the lower-level seats to cheer as the players skated the Cup around the ice, all involved knew to hold on tight. The sights and sounds would soon enough be relegated to memory, stories told to those who were not there - or re-told over and over to those that were. Trotz said he already can’t wait for the reunions. 

T.J. Oshie began crying before he even left the bench as the final buzzer sounded. In the crowd, his father, Tim, his lifelong coach, hollered for his son. Early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease was ravaging his mind and stealing these moments from him. Not today, though. Oshie fought back tears during a few media interviews on the ice before eventually finding Tim and embracing him. 

“What a great human being, what a great man, what a great father,” Oshie said. “Some things slip his memory these days, but this one is going to be seared in there. I don’t think any disease is going to take this one away from him.”

Wander the ice and you saw dozens of unique stories playing out in the aftermath of the championship win amongst players and coaches, executives and staff. Over the summer most of them would get a day of their own with the Cup. Their kids would eat ice cream out of it, long-time friends would sing songs around it, towns big and small from British Columbia to Siberia would host it. 

But that night in Vegas was pure chaos. Thirty minutes after the game ended, reporters were allowed onto an ice sheet soon crowded with family and friends. 

Lars Eller’s father, Olaf, a hockey coach back home in Denmark, grabbed his son, who patiently listened for the millionth time as his dad told him how proud he was. Lars Eller was the first Danish player to win the Stanley Cup, which would eventually make its way to his hometown of Rodovre.   

Evgeny Kuznetsov found his dad, also named Evgeny, in the madness and promptly slapped the snazzy gray-and-white Stanley Cup championship hat on his head. It was a long way from Chelyabinsk, Russia, the industrial town where Kuznetsov grew up and where his older brother, Alexander, died in 2003 during a May Day holiday celebration that turned violent. Every one of them had a back story that made the moment special. 

Real life still intruded over and over again. Jay Beagle’s toddler son crashed to the ice and had a meltdown. He cut short an interview to soothe him. John Carlson’s kids, Rudy and Lucca, were better behaved as they took a big Carlson family photo with the Cup, multiple generations experiencing a lifelong dream.  

Tom Wilson teased teammate Braden Holtby’s son, Benjamin, and the six-year-old took the barbs in stride. He seemed to expect it. Holtby then laughed as he saw his mom, Tammi, overcome with emotion and told her to take a breath. 

The moments spun like a kaleidoscope. Ovechkin saw his old teammate, Olie Kolzig, the man who kept him in line as a young player during his first three years in the NHL, the last goalie to take Washington to the Stanley Cup Final in 1998. Ovechkin yelled to get Kolzig’s attention: “Olaf! Olaf!” Then the two men smiled and did a simultaneous fist pump. The ice was filled with such interactions. 

Kolzig grabbed Holtby and fellow goalies Philipp Grubauer and Pheonix Copley and goaltender coach Mitch Korn for a group picture. Carlson and Beagle, teammates for nine years, found the Cup again and held it up together for a picture. The trophy moved around a lot over the 75 minutes from when NHL commissioner Gary Bettman handed it to Ovechkin until he finally kissed the Cup one last time on the bench, thanked the city of Las Vegas, and took it back to the locker room and his waiting teammates. 

After the raucous locker room celebration, where beer was drunk and sprayed in equal measures, the team bus was off to dinner back at the hotel and then, as early risers back in Washington were just waking up, the Cup made its way through the MGM Grand Casino on the Las Vegas Strip. Ovechkin walked it past Caps fans and late-night gamblers and right into a hotel nightclub.  

It all flashed by so quickly as life’s best moments do. Before they knew it, the Capitals were back in Washington for a wild weekend celebration that ranged from Arlington bars to Nationals Park to the Georgetown waterfront to Adams Morgan to DuPont Circle clubs. 

By Monday, Holtby and Ovechkin were in New York for an appearance on The Tonight Show. Tuesday was the long-awaited championship parade up Constitution Avenue, one of the great parties in D.C. history.

Yet within a week, Trotz had resigned and taken a new job with the New York Islanders and Lambert and Korn went with him. Within two weeks Brooks Orpik and Grubauer had been traded to Colorado at the NHL Draft and within three Beagle had signed as a free agent with Vancouver. Orpik would soon return, but the group was already breaking up. 

Throughout July and August, the Cup made its way from Washington to Moscow and everywhere in between. But soon the short summer was over and a new season - one that would not end with a title - had begun. 

Within days the Stanley Cup will belong to someone else. The Capitals’ year with it is almost over. The party has moved on. What’s left are the memories and the stories of a magical playoff run that ended exactly a year ago in Vegas and that so many never thought they’d see.


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Caps finally solve Halak for improbable shootout win

Caps finally solve Halak for improbable shootout win

The Capitals needed a goal from T.J. Oshie with less than a minute remaining to force overtime on Saturday where they would go on to defeat the Boston Bruins 3-2 in a shootout.

It looked like Jaroslav Halak would once again pull off a miraculous win as he turned aside 42 shots, but the Caps kept up the pressure late to tie the game and get back in the win column.

Saturday's win is now Washington's 15th in the last 16 contests against the Bruins.

Here is how the Caps won.

Boyd makes the most of his opportunity

On Friday, Travis Boyd was a Hershey Bear. With Nic Dowd and Carl Hagelin both injured but without enough money under the cap for Boyd, the Caps recalled Tyler Lewington on Friday and skated seven defensemen and only 11 forwards against the Montreal Canadiens. On Saturday, the team sent Lewington and Ilya Samsonov to Hershey and recalled Vitek Vanecek and Boyd. The extra cap space the team gained from Vanecek taking Samsonov's spot allowed them to recall Boyd and skate four full forward lines. The impact of Boyd's addition was felt in the first period when Boyd scored a deflection to beat Halak and get the Caps on the board.

In seven games with the Caps this season, Boyd has one goal and four assists.

Caps get their power play setup on 6-on-5

For much of the night, the Caps just could not figure out Halak. They poured on the shots, but he was there each time and looked like he would be able to lead his team to the narrow victory. Late in regulation, the Caps pulled Braden Holtby for the extra attacker and the Caps gave Boston a power play look.

Washington had its top power play unit on the ice plus Tom Wilson. The goal looked like one right out of the power play's playbook with Evgeny Kuznetsov behind the goal line feeding Oshie in the slot. Oshie is great at getting those quick shots away from in close and he finally beat Halak with 59 seconds remaining.

Oshie was instrumental in setting up the goal as well as he blocked a clearing attempt from Zdeno Chara with his glove to keep the puck in the offensive zone just seconds before Kuznetsov set him up for the goal.

Backstrom and Vrana deliver in the shootout

Washington scored only twice on the shootout, but that would be all they needed.

The normally automatic Oshie was stopped on his shootout attempt putting Washington behind early on.I n a score-or-go-home situation for Nicklas Backstrom, he managed to sneak a shot in between the glove and the pad of Halak to force extra rounds of the shootout. Then Jakub Vrana pulled off one of the nices shootout goals you will ever see.


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Boyd makes his case, Oshie saves the game and Vrana dazzles

Boyd makes his case, Oshie saves the game and Vrana dazzles

The Capitals are back in the win column after Saturday's 3-2 shootout win, but they almost didn't get there because of that pesky Jaroslav Halak. It took a last minute goal from T.J. Oshie and some shootout magic by Jakub Vrana. Having four full forward lines certainly helped, too.

Check out the recap of Saturday's game here.

Observations from the win

Boyd or Stephenson? Boyd is making his case

Carl Hagelin and Nic Dowd are both out with injury. Both are considered day-to-day and one or both should be returning to the lineup sooner rather than later. When that happens, the Caps are going to have to send someone back to Hershey and, with a goal against Boston, Travis Boyd is doing his best to make sure it isn't him.

In all likelihood, the decision will come down to Boyd or Chandler Stephenson again. Boyd has lost that competition earlier this season, but after Boyd's goal on Saturday I think whether to keep him in Washington or not at least warrants a discussion.

The Caps are so close to the salary cap that when both Dowd and Hagelin were out injured, the team recalled Tyler Lewington, a defenseman, because it could not afford Boyd under the cap ceiling. With things so tight, the Caps need to find a way to bank more cap space and keeping Boyd ($800,000 cap hit) over Stephenson ($1.05 million cap hit) would certainly help.

It's not just about money. Stephenson responded to Todd Reirden's preseason challenge and justified his spot in the lineup to start. He is a very fast player which is an important attirbute in today's NHL and also plays on the penalty kill which Boyd does not.

Five-on-five play matters too, however, and Boyd has far exceeded Stephenson's play in that area including his production. In 18 games and an average of 11:22 of ice time, Stephenson has 2 goals and one assist. In just seven games and 9:09 of ice time, Boyd has one goal and four assists.

Boyd produces with less playing time in fewer games and has a lower cap hit. Is the fact that Stephenson can play on the penalty kill enough to send Boyd back to Hershey? I'm not so sure.

The value of dirty goals

Don't get me wrong, Jaroslav Halak was great in this game. He made 42 saves and did a great job tracking the puck and getting in front of it to make the first save. Having said that, he was shaky with the puck all night. He could make that first save, but everything after was an adventure. He struggled to control his rebounds or the puck and that was an area the Caps needed to take advantage of, but couldn't.

Washington has one of the top offenses in the NHL and they are doing it largely with an offense that shoots off the pass. There's nothing wrong with that. Clearly it works. Making a goalie move back and forth and not allowing him to get set makes life difficult. Having said that, on nights like this where Halak is getting to everything he can see, you need dirty goals and that is one area in which the Caps are lacking.

What are dirty goals? The deflections (like Boyd's), the rebounds, the screens, the loose pucks in front. Those were the goals the Caps needed and, apart from Boyd's first-period tally, they couldn't get them. Ultiamtely the result was a win so it does not matter, but it seemed like the offense was a lot more difficult than it needed to be. There were goals to be had and opportunities in front of Halak. That is a tool the Caps need to add to their arsenal and use more often than they do.

Time to see more of Hathaway and Gudas

We are seeing more and more of Tom Wilson mixing things up lately and that's fine. It's what he does and he's very good at getting under opponents' skin. Right now it seems like we are seeing a lot of Wilson doing it and not enough of it from Garnet Hathaway or Radko Gudas. In a physical game like this one, I would like to see more of them mixing things up and less of it fall on Wilson who is a top-six, often top-line forward.

Turning point

Washington had 44 shots on goal in this game, 11 of which came in the third period. It looked like it was just not going to be the Caps' night thanks to Halak (again). Oshie, however, delivered with just 59 seconds remaining in regulation.

Play of the game

I am not a big fan of the shootout. The 3-on-3 overtime format is amazing and it seems like such a letdown when games go to the shootout. Having said that, this Jakub Vrana shootout goal was filthy.

This, however, is a close 2nd to the play of the game.

Evidently Marchand is only tough when it comes to Lars Eller.

Stat of the game

Braden Holtby has put the early season struggles behind him.

Quote of the game

Boyd on Vrana's shootout goal:

"Man, nasty. Unbelievable. I'm sure it will be all over the highlights tonight. Not only to go ahead in the shootout and put us ahead there and give us a chance to win with a [Holtby] stop, but to do it in that fashion, that's pretty cool."

Fan predictions

You guys may have overshot this one...just a bit.

Patrice Bergeron was out injured. Even so, David Pastrnak still got a goal.

Boyd didn't get two points, but he did get a goal.

Keep trying. You'll get there.