Photo: NBC Sports Washington
Before turning the page to 2018-19, let’s take a few more moments to enjoy and celebrate the incredible season the Washington Capitals had, which ended in the franchise’s first Stanley Cup title. In this piece, NoVa Caps looks at the top 10 games of the magical 2017-18 season it was. Later, we will countdown the top five playoff games during the Capitals’ historic playoff run.
10. 1/12 at Carolina Hurricanes – 4-3 Win
Entering the third period tied 2-2 on the back half of home-and-home series with the Hurricanes, Carolina’s Jeff Skinner struck just 1:49 into the third period to take the lead for the Canes. Carolina would still lead 3-2 with under five minutes to go but Brett Connolly tied the game in the slot off a turnover from Noah Hanifin with 3:08 to go in regulation.
When the game appeared it was going to overtime, Nicklas Backstrom threw the puck to the net, where he found Jay Beagle. Beagle had a wide open net and scored on the backhand with 0.5 seconds remaining in the game to make it 4-3 Capitals.
The goal ensured Washington a split with Carolina after the Caps dropped the first game of the home-and-home set with the Canes 3-1 at Capital One Arena the previous night.
9. 12/30 vs. New Jersey Devils – 5-2 Win
The Devils sat one point ahead of the Capitals for first place in the Metropolitan Division and entered the game riding an eight-game point streak.
John Carlson launched a bullet to the top corner in the second period to extend the Capitals’ lead to 3-1 on a power play.
Matt Niskanen finished another tic-tac-toe goal with Ovechkin and Wilson less than five minutes into the third. The Devils added one more goal but Backstrom added an empty net goal to finish off a big win in the team’s final game of the 2017 calendar year.
The Capitals played a solid game, outshooting the Devils 35-27.
8. 2/15 at Minnesota Wild – 5-2 Win
Entering the second game of a season long four-game road trip and coming off of a game in Winnipeg that saw the Capitals blow a 3-1 lead, including yielding a short-handed goal with 15 seconds left that saw the Jets force overtime and win 4-3, the Capitals were tasked to rebound against a Wild team that had gone 12-0-3 in their last 15 home games.
After a scoreless first frame, Wilson whipped a shot from the left dot 59 seconds into the second period to get Washington on the board first. Ovechkin struck less than five minutes later, taking a feed from Andre Burakovsky at the goal line and going five-hole on Devan Dubnyk.
The Capitals entered the third period with a 2-0 lead and extended it to 3-0 on a dazzling end-to-end goal from Burakovsky, who went high-glove on Dubnyk, 2:29 into the period. The Wild responded shortly, making it 3-1 on a goalmouth scramble.
Later in the third, Backstrom restored the Caps’ three-goal cushion by pouncing Ovechkin’s shot to the back of the net after Dubnyk coughed the puck up in the blue paint. Eric Staal shortly cut the Caps’ lead in half but Wilson added an empty net goal to make it 5-2.
Grubauer made 32 saves for the Capitals in arguably the team’s most dominant road performance of the season. Ovechkin also tallied his 1100th career NHL point with a four-point performance
7. 11/25 at Toronto Maple Leafs – 4-2 Win
With one of his biggest fans in the crowd, Alex Luey, who was fighting cancer on the Maple Leafs’ hockey fights cancer night, Ovechkin promised Leuy that he would score a goal for him.
He more than delivered scoring his 20th career hat-trick, which made him the franchise leader in that category. Ovechkin scored an end-to-end goal and a power-play goal off of a faceoff in the first period before capping it off with an empty net goal in the third period for his 17th goal of the season and his fifth in three games.
Jakub Vrana also scored going blocker side on Curtis McElhinney on a breakaway in the middle frame to extend Washington’s lead to 3-0.
The Maple Leafs struck twice in the third in a comeback effort but just fell short.
Braden Holtby made 27 saves in the Capitals’ third straight win.
6. 11/24 vs. Tampa Bay Lightning – 3-1 Win
With the best team in NHL coming to town on Black Friday, the Capitals decided to start Grubauer after he went 0-5-1 in his first six starts of the regular season. Despite his record, he wasn’t playing poorly but got starts on the second night of back-to-backs, when the Capitals were not at their best.
Things did not start off smoothly for Grubauer and the Caps as Tampa Bay struck 1:22 into the game on a power play but the Capitals responded later in the first after Ovechkin unleashed a howitzer to the left corner after receiving a pass from Wilson to tie the game.
Devante Smith-Pelly gave the Capitals the lead on a rebound in front of the net after Beagle’s shot got stopped from Andrei Vasielevskiy.
Beagle made it 3-1 late in the third with an empty net goal, which gave Grubauer, who stopped 25 Tampa Bay shots, his first win of the season against the NHL’s top dog on Black Friday.
5. 4/1 at Pittsburgh Penguins – 3-1 Win
With an opportunity to clinch the Metropolitan Divison in their archrival’s building on Easter Sunday, the Capitals elected to go with Grubauer, who entered the game as the league’s hottest netminder.
T.J. Oshie got the scoring started just 6:25 into the game after getting a great pass from Burakovsky in the offensive zone after Burakovsky deked around Phil Kessel. Oshie snapped the puck right in front of Matt Murray to give Washington a 1-0 lead.
In the second period, Washington had 1:20 worth of 5-on-3 shorthanded time against the league’s top power play and Pittsburgh generated multiple scoring chances, including a wide open net that Evgeni Malkin shot at but hit the crossbar. The Capitals killed off both penalties.
Later in the frame, Dmitry Orlov picked up the puck in the defensive zone before skating over the other half of the rink and beat Murray with a shot that went high blocker side.
The Capitals made it 3-0 on a deflection from Wilson on a shot from Niskanen at the point. The shot went over Murray’s shoulder to pad the Caps’ lead just 23 seconds into the third period.
Grubauer made a larcenous glove save on Pens’ captain Sidney Crosby. After Jakub Jerabek turned the puck over in the defensive zone to Jake Guentzel, Guentzel fed a cross-ice feed to Crosby, who had a wide-open net but Grubauer got it with the glove.
Pittsburgh made it 3-1 after Patric Hornqvist buried a rebound from Malkin’s initial shot in front of the net but Washington won 3-1, clinching their third consecutive Metropolitan Division title.
4. 12/19 at Dallas Stars – 4-3 Win
In the first game of a three-game Western Conference road trip before the holiday break, the Capitals and Stars battled it out at American Airlines Center in one of the most entertaining games of the season.
Burakovsky opened the scoring 10 minutes in, snapping a shot from the right dot over Ben Bishop’s blocker for his second goal of the season.
The Stars would score the next two goals on a Jamie Benn deflection on a John Klingberg shot on a power play in the first frame and a Gemel Smith rebound tally in the second.
Two minutes after Smith made it 2-1 Dallas, Orlov scored one of the highlight goals of the year after toe-dragging through his own legs and snapping a shot high-glove side on Bishop for his fourth goal of the season.
The third period would be scoreless until Alex Radulov snapped a shot from the slot over Holtby’s glove with 4:07 left in regulation. When it appeared that the Caps would come up short in this wild affair, Connolly took a feed from Burakovsky from behind the net and squeezed a shot through the pads of Bishop, forcing overtime.
1:51 into the extra session, Burakovsky tallied his second of the game after taking the puck from Carlson. Burakovsky powered the puck to the net and went to the roof on Bishop again, giving the Capitals a 4-3 overtime win.
3. 10/7 vs. Montreal Canadiens – 6-1 Win
In the team’s home opener of the 2017-18 season, the Capitals came out of the gates flying with Ovechkin scoring on a turn-around slapshot 20 seconds into the game, Oshie scoring on a rebound from Backstrom 26 seconds later, and Ovechkin burying a cross-ice feed from Evgeny Kuznetsov on a power-play goal 2:51 in to make it 3-0 in a first period slaughter.
Ovechkin got his second hat trick in as many periods when he redirected a Kuznetsov wrist shot past the blocker of Carey Price while trying to fight off former teammate Karl Alzner in front of the net.
The Capitals would enter the middle frame up 4-0. After Montreal scored in the first five minutes to make it a three-goal deficit, Ovechkin scored his fourth of the game after powering to the net and the puck bounced past Al Montoya, who replaced Price earlier in the game, after going off of a defenseman’s skate and it.
Nathan Walker, who was making his NHL debut that night, made it 6-1 after the puck deflected off of his butt from Smith-Pelly’s shot off a faceoff.
Braden Holtby made 38 saves in the blowout win.
2. 3/12 vs. Winnipeg Jets – 3-2 Win
With the Capitals returning home from a 1-2-0 performance on the three-game California road trip in March, the Capitals needed to come home and have a strong performance against the Jets, one of the league’s top teams.
The storyline heading into the game was the matchup featuring Ovechkin and Patrik Laine, the first and second-place goal leaders in the league at the time. They were tied for the league-lead at 40 and Ovechkin entered the game two goals shy of his 600th career goal entering the game.
Ovechkin scored goal No. 599 4:35 into the game off of a cross-ice pass from Carlson after he got the puck on a faceoff win by Backstrom. Nikolaj Ehlers tied it right back up 58 seconds later on a breakaway.
A wide-open Laine drew one goal within Ovechkin for the league lead after receiving a cross-ice feed from Paul Stastny and scored from the right dot. The puck went through the five-hole of Grubauer and into the net.
The game went into overtime. With under a minute to go, Chandler Stephenson broke up a two-on-one rush between Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler and sprung the puck to Kuznetsov on a breakaway. Kuznetsov went high glove on Hellebyuck for a 3-2 overtime win against one of the league’s powerhouse teams in a memorable night.
1. 3/3 vs. Toronto Maple Leafs – 5-2 Win in Stadium Series Game
The Capitals scored 3:50 into the game on a goal from Kuznetsov on the power play off of a rebound from Backstrom. The goal was Kuznetsov’s 20th of the season, which matched his previous career-high set in 2015-16. The Maple Leafs tied the game 1:30 later on a Zach Hyman redirection in front of the net from Roman Polak’s shot. The Caps would answer less than a minute later with Ovechkin pounding a feed from behind the net behind Fredrik Andersen to restore the Capitals’ lead for. The goal was Ovechkin’s 40th goal of the season. 10 minutes later, Backstrom buried his own rebound after taking a behind the net feed from Kuznetsov on the power play to make it 3-1.
Nazem Kadri tipped in Patrick Marleau’s shot in front of Holtby to cut the Capitals’ lead to 3-2 7:22 into the middle frame but Carlson buried a feed from Stephenson in front of the net after Morgan Reilly took out his own goal, leaving Carlson with a wide-open net for his 12th goal of the season. The Caps would extend their lead to 5-2 less than three minutes later when Kuznetsov sent Vrana on a breakaway and Vrana went five-hole on Andersen to break a 24-game goalless drought.
Holtby made 27 saves in the win after losing his previous six starts.
After the Capitals dominated the Maple Leafs, head coach Mike Babcock said after the game that they would spend tomorrow “putting in the work we didn’t put in tonight.”
What do you think Caps fans; do you agree with our list?
By Harrison Brown