Photo: Washington Times
As the quest of a Stanley Cup repeat begins for the Washington Capitals in eight weeks, it’s time to take one last look at what a magical postseason it was. In this post, NoVa Caps counts down the top five playoff games of the Capitals’ run to their first-ever Stanley Cup. Last week, we counted down the top 10 Capitals games of the regular season.
5. Game 4 vs. Vegas Golden Knights – 6-2 Win
The Capitals made their final home game of the season one to remember with a 6-2 win against the Golden Knights, which put them one victory away from the Stanley Cup.
The Capitals overcame a fast start from the Golden Knights. Vegas was swarming in the Caps’ zone to begin the game, to try to get this series tied-up at two games apiece, before going back to the desert. Golden Knights’ forward James Neal hit the post with a wide open net in front of him 4:29 into the period while Vegas was on the power play.
After a fast start from the Golden Knights, the Capitals scored three goals in the opening frame. T.J. Oshie scored on a rebound to give the Capitals a 1-0 lead about 10 minutes in. Six minutes after Oshie scored, Tom Wilson potted a give-and-go with Evgeny Kuznetsov to double the Capitals lead. With 21 seconds left in the period, Matt Niskanen sent a puck toward the net and it went right to Devante Smith-Pelly, who caught the puck with his skate and put it underneath the crossbar for a 3-0 lead.
The Golden Knights struck twice off of a Neal tally from down low and a Reilly Smith tally in front of Braden Holtby to cut the Capitals’ lead in half. But the Capitals denied any chance of a Vegas comeback 1:13 after Smith scored when Michal Kempny answered back after receiving a cross-ice feed from Nicklas Backstrom.
Things got feisty at the end when Colin Miller hit Oshie and Oshie chirped Miller back. Earlier, Oshie broke Miller’s nose on the Kempny goal who had to go to the locker room for repairs, so it’s easy to figure out why Miller was upset. The Capitals got a 5-on-3 power play with two minutes left and Brett Connolly restored the Caps’ four-goal lead with a shot from the slot.
Holtby made 28 saves in the win while Kuznetsov had himself a night with four assists to push the Capitals a win away from the ultimate goal.
4. Game 5 at Vegas Golden Knights – 4-3 Win
The Capitals’ 4-3 victory in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final over the Golden Knights clinched the franchise’s first ever Stanley Cup and Washington’s first championship since the Redskins’ Super Bowl victory in 1992.
After a scoreless first frame, Jakub Vrana beat Marc-Andre Fleury near the top right corner for a 1-0 lead after getting sprung by Wilson on a semi-breakaway. Former Capital Nate Schmidt tied the game at one with a wrist shot from up high that went off the skate of Niskanen and through the five-hole of Holtby. The next shift, Ovechkin drew a tripping penalty on Brayden McNabb on a breakaway. Ovechkin scored 22 seconds into the power play from the lower left circle, after receiving a cross-ice feed from Backstrom. David Perron tied the game up a few minutes after Ovechkin made it 2-1. Tomas Tatar deflected a Miller shot from behind and the puck went off Perron’s skate after he was fighting with Christian Djoos in the crease. Smith took the lead for the Golden Knights after a great pass from Alex Tuch on a power play and had a wide open net to give Vegas a 3-2 lead.
The Capitals trailed 3-2 entering the third period but Smith-Pelly tied the game at three a little less than 10 minutes in. Smith-Pelly caught a Brooks Orpik shot from the point with his skate and swept it past Fleury while falling. Three minutes later, Connolly received a pass from Andre Burakovsky, who stripped the puck from Luca Sbisa, and shot one that beat Fleury but was not strong enough to find the net. Luckily, Lars Eller pounced on the loose puck and put it into a yawning cage for the game-winning goal to win the Stanley Cup for the Capitals.
3. Game 6 vs. Tampa Bay Lightning – 3-0 Win
After the Capitals dropped three consecutive games in the Eastern Conference Final to the Tampa Bay Lightning, the team found itself in a do-or-die Game 6 at home. Before the game, Ovechkin called it “the biggest game of my career” and was one of the biggest games in franchise history against the best team in the Eastern Conference.
With their season on the line, the Capitals played one of their best games in recent memory, winning 3-0, outshooting the Bolts 34-24 (and outshooting them in all three periods), outhitting Tampa 39-19, and blocking 20 shots.
After a scoreless first frame, Carlson appeared to have given the Caps’ a 1-0 lead on a second-period power play but hit the post. Shortly after, Backstrom set up Oshie in the slot and Oshie beat Andrei Vasielevskiy high-glove to give them a 1-0 lead for real.
The Capitals doubled their lead when Smith-Pelly buried a Chandler Stephenson pass from behind the net after Stephenson beat Brett Coburn to a loose puck in the offensive zone.
After that, the Capitals were swarming the Tampa Bay zone eager to extend their lead even more. Oshie added an empty net goal with about 50 seconds left for his second of the game.
Holtby pitched his first shutout since March 2, 2017.
Riding the momentum of a dominant Game 6 performance, the captain scored the game-winning goal for the Capitals just 62 seconds into the game after receiving a cross-ice pass from Kuznetsov and slapping it blocker side on Vasielevskiy.
After Ovechkin struck, the Lightning played with desperation for the next 28 minutes of the game, getting many numerous opportunities, none better than Victor Hedman deking around Holtby and putting the puck in front of an empty net for Yanni Gourde. Gourde fanned on the shot and it remained a 1-0 lead for the Caps.
Later in the frame, Burakovsky stripped the puck from Dan Girardi in the offensive zone and buried his first goal of the playoffs, going high-glove on Vasilevskiy. Burakovsky scored his second of the game later in the frame after getting a pass off the boards from Carlson. Carlson sprung Burakovsky on a breakaway and went through the legs of Vasielevskiy before Ryan McDonagh took him down. The Bolts outshot the Caps 12-6 in the second frame despite allowing two goals.
Backstrom capped the game off with an empty netter that gave the Caps a 4-0 lead.
Holtby stopped all 29 shots he faced to send the Capitals to their first Stanley Cup Final in 20 years.
1. Game 6 vs. Pittsburgh Penguins – 2-1 Win
The Capitals entered Game 6 against the Pittsburgh Penguins one win away from ending “The D.C. Sports Curse” and meeting the Lightning in the Conference Final, somewhere they haven’t been in 20 years. The Capitals played without Backstrom, who sustained a broken hand in Game 5 against Pittsburgh, Burakovsky, who sustained a hand injury in Game 2 against the Columbus Blue Jackets in Round 1, and Wilson, who was serving the final game of a three-game suspension for giving Zach-Aston Reese a concussion and a broken jaw in Game 3 against Pittsburgh. The Capitals played Nathan Walker and Travis Boyd in Backstrom and Wilson’s place. Walker and Boyd were making their Stanley Cup Playoff debut.
The Capitals played a solid game, outshooting the Penguins 30-22 (including 6-2 in overtime) and outhitting the Pens 36-33.
After a scoreless first frame, Walker went behind the net and fed Alex Chiasson, who went under the blocker of Matt Murray 2:13 into the second period. About 10 minutes later, Sidney Crosby won a faceoff back to Brian Dumoulin, who fed Kris Letang. Letang ripped a shot past the glove of Holtby to tie the game at 1.
The Capitals and Penguins were scoreless in the final frame but Vrana had a wide open net with Murray down and out with 15 seconds left. Unfortunately for Vrana and the Capitals, he was in a bad spot and couldn’t get the shot away.
The game went into overtime.
Just about three minutes into the extra frame, Carl Hagelin fed Tom Kuhnackl at the right circle for a great chance to end the game and extend the series to Game 7 for the Penguins, but it hit the post.
Two minutes later, Dmitry Orlov picked a pass from Letang and gave it to Ovechkin. Ovechkin went ahead and sprung the puck ahead to Kuznetsov for a breakaway after he split the defense. All alone, Kuznetsov shot the puck through the legs of Murray to send the Capitals to the Conference Final in 20 years.
Afterwards, Kuznetsov did his bird celly into the boards while Ovechkin put his head back, thanking the gods after finally getting past the Penguins and the Second Round.
What do you think Caps fans? Agree or disagree with us?
By Harrison Brown