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The biggest ‘what ifs’ in Capitals history: What if Lars Eller never scored the 2OT goal?

The biggest ‘what ifs’ in Capitals history: What if Lars Eller never scored the 2OT goal?

This week NBC Sports Washington is looking at some of the biggest “what ifs” for the Capitals. Last week, we looked at what ifs for the season. This week, we are looking at some of the bigger what ifs from franchise history.
 
Today’s what-if: What if Lars Eller had not delivered the game-winning goal in double overtime of Game 3 against the Columbus Blue Jackets?
 
Lars Eller scored the Stanley Cup-clinching goal in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Vegas Golden Knights, but that arguably was not the most important goal he scored during that 2018 postseason.
 
Down 2-0 in the first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Eller scored the double-overtime winner to give Washington its first win. It was a fluky one that bounced off a number of body parts on its way into the net, but it still counted. But what if he had not scored that goal and the Caps had lost Game 3?
 
While Washington was able to erase a 2-0 deficit to win four straight against Columbus and win the series, it’s hard to believe they could have done the same thing if down 3-0. At that time, despair would have started to sink in. 

RELATED: WHAT IF THE CAPS HADN'T WON THE 2004 NHL DRAFT LOTTERY?
 
In terms of moves head coach Barry Trotz could have made, he would have had to get creative because the standard panic move of a goalie change would not cut it. Philipp Grubauer started Games 1 and 2 and was replaced by Braden Holtby in Game 3. Going back to Grubauer was not a realistic option at that point. Chances are, Washington would have suffered a first-round exit.
 
Considering Trotz left after winning a Stanley Cup, it is hard to imagine him staying after a first-round exit. So with another year of falling short of expectations in the postseason and in need of a new head coach, this is the point where I believe Brian MacLellan would have had to seriously consider dismantling the team. 
 
I don’t think there was ever a scenario where Alex Ovechkin would be traded considering what he means to the franchise, but I think everyone else would have been on the table. After all, by 2018 what reason would the team have to believe the core was good enough to make a deep playoff run? It had not done it after four seasons with Trotz and about as loaded a lineup as a team can have.
 
It would not have meant the end of the Ovechkin era as he would have stayed, but it probably would have meant the end in terms of the Ovechkin-led Caps pursuing a Cup. By that time, it would have been clear it was time to start over and it would have meant a very long 2018 offseason.

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Two years later, reminiscing on the Capitals' magical Parade Day

Two years later, reminiscing on the Capitals' magical Parade Day

Being in Las Vegas the night the Capitals won the Stanley Cup was a professional high. Broadcasting those moments as the players skated around the ice, Cup overhead, the realization not only of their dreams but the dreams of Caps fans everywhere... that was the best night of my career.

But Parade Day was a close second.

We had to get to our stage very early that morning. You could already feel the excitement in the air. Even before the sun came up. This was going to be a party unlike any this city has seen since the Redskins last Super Bowl title. But that was almost 30 years ago. This had the feel of something different. Something special.

It did not disappoint.

Michael Jenkins & I made friends with a group of fans near our set. Those guys came equipped with airplane sized bottles of many different kinds of liquor. And they were sharing. So we were drinking. Sure, it might have been around 9 am. But it felt like it was 5 o’clock somewhere. So the insanity began.

We had people lined up and down Constitution Ave. We had the parade covered from every angle. When we caught our first glimpse of the Cup, it still felt surreal. This was really happening. In DC. The demons had been exorcised. The black cloud that followed the city’s sports teams had been replaced with a bright sun and it was shining down on everyone. And it felt like everyone was there. The whole city. It was a sea of red for as far as the eye could see.

RELATED: REMEMBERING LORD STANLEY'S JOURNEY AROUND DC

And what better backdrop. The Monument on one end. The Capitol on the other. Delirious Caps fans lined the mall in between. It was amazing.

Nicklas Backstrom said he used to envision a parade down Constitution Ave every time he drove to work. He said the parade far surpassed even his wildest expectations.

When Barry Trotz addressed the crowd, he beautifully paraphrased Martin Luther King. Saying, “We had a dream.” The dream was realized. Yet, it still felt like we were living inside that dream.

Ted Leonsis thanked the fans. And the community. His dream was to unite the city. To have his franchise bring people together. His dream was playing out right in front of his eyes. Not many people get to experience that in a lifetime. You could see in his face how much this meant to him and his family. Which, at that moment, extended to the entire fan base.

RELATED: TWO YEARS LATER, BEST FAN MEMORIES FROM THE STANLEY CUP CELEBRATION

And, of course, Ovi summed it all up when he stopped the music at the end of the parade for one final statement. His reminder to the fans of how far this team had come that season.,

“We’re not gonna be f*****g suck this year!”

That’s a mic drop moment if there ever was one.

For us, it was the culmination of the wildest two-month rides of our lives. Seeing Alan May tear up when they won the Cup. Then seeing him get emotional again when his team was celebrated in his city... that was all worth it.

The parade was over. The party was not.

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Walking through the city was phenomenal. Everyone smiling, everyone enjoying the moment. I high-fived strangers in the street. I shared a drink or two along the way.

We all made our way to Penn Quarter Sports Tavern. Alan arranged for us to have our own personal keg on the top floor. It was packed. Horn Guy & Loud Goat were leading the chants. Somehow, we all ended up doing inverted keg stands to see who could do it the longest. It was being broadcast by Steve Czaban on 980. I know that because some guys stopped me at the end of the night and said they were listening to the play-by-play on the radio. It was all so crazy. It was all so fun.

I’d sign up for another summer like that right now!

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Two years later, the best fan memories from the Capitals' Stanley Cup celebration

Two years later, the best fan memories from the Capitals' Stanley Cup celebration

The Capitals' Stanley Cup victory on June 7, 2018, will be a day that is forever etched into the memory of DC sports fans. While the championship was followed up with an incredible stretch of celebrations from the players, the supporters had plenty of fun as well.

In honor of the two year anniversary of the Capitals' Stanley Cup victory and ensuing celebration, NBC Sports Washington asked fans on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and Instagram to share what they were doing the moment Washington became champions of the hockey world. 

The answers did not disappoint.

Many were lucky enough to take in the historical moment with the people that meant the most to them. Generations of family and friends got together to cry, yell, jump and share the joy of winning with those who had been through all the ups and downs in prior seasons.

"In my living room, tossing my 6 yo son in the air. We were both screaming at the top of our lungs and I couldn’t help but let the waterworks flow. It had been forever for DC sports fans, and seeing Ovi lift it up is something the two of us will remember for a lifetime." - Hunter Bell Jr, Facebook

"My mom was diagnosed with cancer around the end of the season. I played my whole life at piney orchard with the chiefs and grew up around the capitals. She passed that the next year but she got to see this." - Vern Smith, Facebook

"I woke my daughter up with 44 seconds left. I was squeezing her so hard when the clock stopped, she had to say, 'mom you’re really squeezing me too hard'. As the clock finally hit zero, we just stood in the middle of a dark living room, trying not to scream (my husband was sleeping) hugging each other and crying. I will never forget that moment." - Amanda Fursetzer, Facebook

RELATED: SEE THE INTERACTIVE MAP OF THE CAPS' CELEBRATION THROUGH D.C.

Others celebrated with complete strangers, bonded by the excitement of witnessing their team succeed. As the Caps clinched the Stanley Cup, everyone became one big family.

"Standing at the Navy Memorial Plaza in DC with my husband, my son and a whole lot of other people jumping and crying and hugging each other while the Caps did the same thing on the big outdoor screen. I hugged more strangers that night than any other time in my life." - mariblough, Instagram

Some fans were in Las Vegas to witness the Capitals' historic moment first-hand.

Even those who were not in DC or Las Vegas still found a way to join in on the fun. No time difference or lack of service was going to stop them from witnessing their team win it all. Hundreds to thousands of miles away, the celebrations continued.

"In Korea, actually receiving my end of tour award. My boss was also a caps fan so he was indulgent with me and waited until intermission to give me my award! The ceremony ended with a Picnic that became a huge Cup Celebration!! I was wearing my caps shirt under my uniform!!" - Melissa Ridgely, Facebook

"Was in Jamaica...missing a party, sitting in my room, watching the game." - pinalope4real, Instagram

"London, England refreshing my phone in the middle of the night during the whole game!!" - Dana Radford Mosca, Facebook

"I was at summer camp in Minnesota LOSING MY MIND in a baseball field by myself because it was the only place I could get good enough signal to stream." - dirtandbonez, Instagram

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June 7, 2018, wasn't just the day the Capitals won for some as the championship paired with other incredible life events.

"In Vegas getting married and watching the game while listening to a band sitting at a bar on Fremont St." - Tim Day, Facebook

"I was watching at Winchester Medical Center in Virginia waiting for our daughter to be born bright and early the next morning." - Keith Anthony Milburn, Facebook

"My daughter was born on the 6th...she turned 2 yesterday...I was running through the hospital screaming." CJ Dinardo, Facebook

"6 weeks pregnant, just having seen our baby boy's heartbeat for the first time earlier that day and wondering how to talk my husband into naming him Stanley!" Natalie Martin, Facebook

One thing most shared in common: tears of joy.

"On my couch, crying. Zero shame in admitting it." - BeerNap21, Reddit

"Crying. Crying like a little baby on my bed with a judgmental dog watching me." -pjevica, Reddit

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