It’s often stated but rarely realized. “This team can win if they just put together a complete 60 minutes.“ Seems simple, right? But when you scan your vast inventory of past Capitals games, how many of those games come to mind that meet the “full 60” criteria? Not many. In the postseason? Even fewer.
Superlatives are often overstated and overused to describe big games. However, with more than two and a half years of time now in the rear view mirror, Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning remains the Capitals best 60 minutes played in franchise history.
SETTING THE STAGE
Game 5 Re-Wind
With the series tied 2-2, the Capitals were late arrivers to the raucous crowd and Game 5 in Tampa, giving up the game’s first goal just 19 seconds into the contest. Following a liistless first period in which the Capitals trailed 2-0 and were outshot 13-4, the Capitals opened the middle frame in similar fashion, yielding a third goal just 33 seconds into the period, further diminishing hopes for taking a third-straight game in Tampa.
The Capitals would finally dent the twine with a tally from Evgeny Kuznetsov to make it 3-1 after two periods and Alex Ovechkin would add a late goal to make things interesting for the final 90 seconds of the game, but it wasn’t enough. Tampa Bay took their first series lead, 3-2.
After the game Capitals bench boss Barry Trotz remained positive. Not because of his pleasant personal nature, but because of what this batch of Capitals players had demonstrated to him throughout the season.
“This group seems to never do anything really easy. They have responded all the time,” said coach Barry Trotz at the team hotel Sunday morning in Tampa after Game 5. “That’s the grace in it all is that they do respond, battle for each other, find another level so we’ll have to do that next game,” said Trotz.
“It’s a life lesson for a lot of guys. You just sort of have to park whatever happened and you move forward. That’s sort of the way life is. I think this group has matured that way. I think this group has grown that way. I expect them to respond like they have all year. We just have to go back and win a game at home and then earn the right to keep playing,” said Trotz prior to departing for Washington.
Entering Game 6
Entering Game 6, the Capitals had lost three straight games to the Lightning and faced elimination for the first time in the 2018 postseason. The Capitals won the first two games of the series on the road in Tampa, but the Lightning stormed back to win two games in Washington and one at home to take a 3-2 series lead.
The Lightning were looking to become the first team to win four straight games in a Conference Final since the Boston Bruins swept the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2013. The Lightning had never lost a playoff game in Washington (7-0) and were looking to become the first NHL team to lose Games 1 and 2 on home ice and rally to win a Conference Finals or Semifinals series (since 1974-1975). The Capitals had not lost four consecutive games all season.
Capitals Captain Alex Ovechkin also remained positive. He knew his crew was capable of a series comeback, and the importance of the game would rally his band mates.
“It’s two steps between you and the Stanley Cup Final,” said Ovechkin after morning skate on Monday. “You just have to play your best. We can’t lose. They have an advantage right now but we have to win the game and go back to play a Game 7 in Tampa. We don’t look back,” Ovechkin said. “We just look forward.”
Head coach Barry Trotz once again made a few tweaks to the starting lineup prior to Game 6. First, he reinstated Andre Burakovsky, who was benched in Game 5. Burakovsky was now on the third line with Brett Connolly and Lars Eller. (The benching and reinstatement would pay dividends in Game 7).
The top line remained unchanged. Jakub Vrana moved up from the third line to the second line while Chandler Stephenson was moved down from the second line (Burakovsky’s spot) to the fourth line with Jay Beagle and Devante Smith-Pelly.
Braden Holtby (10-6, 2.29 GAA, .914 sv%) started between the pipes for the Capitals and Andrei Vasilevskiy (11-4, 2.59 GAA, .919 sv%) started in goal for the Lightning. The Capitals starting forward lines and defensive pairs for Game 6:
Scratches: Alex Chiasson, Madison Bowey, Jakub Jerabek, Shane Gersich, Travis Boyd Nathan Walker and Pheonix Copley.
Capital One Arena was a powder keg for Game 6, ready to explode from the start of the game.
“I think it’s important obviously, playing at home, trying to get the crowd involved… They were loud right from the start, which I think we fed off of,” said Brooks Orpik. “You want to give them something, something back so while we didn’t get a goal early I think some of the physical play kind of helped carry that and they were great for us from start to finish.”
The Capitals dominated the opening frame from the start. They would generate a number of scoring opportunities that kept the Cap One crowd and fans at home on the edge of their seats.
The first period would ultimately be a scoreless, but raucous affair. The Capitals outshot the Lightning 8-6 for the opening frame. There were no power plays but plenty of physical play.
Brook Orpik and J.T. Miller would drop the gloves with 4:25 left in the period. Both would receive 5-minute majors.
The Capitals outhit the Lightning 16-9 in the first period.
The Capitals would finally light the lamp with a power play goal from T.J. Oshie at 15:12 of the middle frame. This was the Capitals first power play since the 7:08 mark of the second period of Game 4. Nicklas Backstrom, still dealing with a damaged hand, maneuvered the Lightning defense into optimum position and fed Oshie for the quick one-timer.
The period would end with the Capitals leading 1-0. The Capitals outshot the Lightning 16-8 for the second period, and led 24-14 after 40 minutes of play.
Midway through the final frame the game was still pretty much up in the air, with the Capitals holding on to a scant 1-0 lead.
The Lightning showed several fierce flurries in the first half of the period, but it would be the Capitals 4th liners that would make the biggest statement of the game. The goal would blow the roof off of Cap One Arena.
Smith-Pelly would start the play deep in his own end, and end the play three passes later. After a deep dump-in by Smith-Pelly, Chandler Stephenson would out-hustle the Lightning down the ice to not only negate an icing call, but keep the play alive by relaying the puck to Jay Beagle. Beagle would dish back to Stephenson behind the goal to further extend the play. Then, somehow, Stephenson found Smith-Pelly entering the zone and the rest is history.
T.J. Oshie would add an empty net goal to seal the deal, and send both teams back to Tampa for a Game 7.
The Capitals four lines were dominant from start to finish in this one. Braden Holtby was stout, recording his fifth career postseason shutout. That’s a deadly combination.
The Capitals outhit the Lightning 39-19 in the game, and it felt like every hit that occurred in the game was not recorded. The hitting in this game was so intense that we did a dedicated post for all of the good hits in the game. You can check that out here.
— Cristiano Simonetta (@CMS_74_) May 22, 2018
The Capitals victory in Game 6 was impressive from the start, stoking the fans fire and fully reinstating dreams of their first Stanley Cup. There was still work to do, but fans found time after Game 6 to celebrate the “full 60” game.
Sizing Things Up
When we mention this game, whether in an article or on one of our social media chanels, many Capitals fans quickly state that Game 6 was the most complete game they had ever witnessed. Here are just a few responses from a tweet we sent out last week.
In my opinion the most perfect game in Caps history. Flawless execution on most every shift. TB never had a chance. @willi2sl
— John G. Gerndt (@allhockeyva) October 29, 2020
I’m biased because i was there but
– this is the greatest game they ever played as a franchise
– this is my favorite goal they ever scored
– this is my favorite Doc Call I’ve ever heard
— ChessDoofus (@ChessDoofus) October 29, 2020
Just a ridiculous game. As close to a prefect game of hockey as you could possibly play.
— DC Sports Make Me Drink (@proctor_bryan) October 30, 2020
— J.R.🔮 #Day239 (@RealReppin) October 29, 2020
— Morgan Till (@mtill50) October 29, 2020
That was the game I knew they were winning the cup. Game 6 I’ve never seen the caps play such a sound hockey game. Man oh man. https://t.co/5ZMBX7E32U
— The Scootalorian (@scooterparkerb) October 29, 2020
I’ll say it again, the most complete hockey game I’ve ever seen from the caps (especially considering the opponent and the circumstances) https://t.co/EjHNlTXZjG
— Michael Prrdee (@mprd27) October 29, 2020
The Capitals played with extreme confidence during the 2018 postseason. No deficit ever really phased them.
Kuznetsov’s goal in Pittsburgh for the series winner in the previous series was an organizational turning point. Game 6 of the 2018 Eastern Conference final also became a turning point for the organization.
By Jon Sorensen