It’s been a blur. So much has happened since the Caps wrapped up their regular season on April 7 that it’s hard for me to keep track. In an effort to keep myself cognizant of the moment we’re in, I’ve compiled the most important moments on the road that led the Washington Capitals to their first Stanley Cup Championship.
April 17: Game Three at Columbus
The Capitals dropped the first two games of the playoffs in gut-wrenching fashion – blowing leads before giving up a game-winner in overtime. Game Three looked to be heading in the same direction until Lars Eller scored the most beautiful ugly goal you’ve ever seen.
Devante Smith-Pelly hopped in celebration.
The Caps did not lose another game that series.
April 23: Game Six at Columbus
There’s all kinds of debate over guarantees in pro sports. When the Caps went down 0-2 to the Blue Jackets, Ovechkin said something that some people might honestly construe as a guarantee. Or not. Your call.
“It’s going to be fun when we bounce back and gonna tie the series and come back here and play Game Five at home.”
Ovechkin recorded three points to bring a tied series back to Washington. Then, in Game Six, he blew up.
He tapped in a rebound on Orpik’s shot to give the Caps the lead.
Then, just minutes later, an Ovi Shot from the Ovi Spot.
Those two goals gave Ovechkin the franchise lead in postseason goals and pushed the team to the second round. There was much rejoicing.
May 7: Game Six at Pittsburgh
Nathan Walker has a story. Born in Wales, raised in Australia, played for the Bears then signed by the Caps, Walker scored in his first NHL game, then got waived in December, claimed by Edmonton, waived by Edmonton, re-claimed by Washington, then played for the Bears again. With the Caps battered by injuries late in the Pittsburgh series, Barry Trotz tapped Walker and did not regret the decision.
Walker’s speed created the opportunity for this goal from Alex Chiasson.
In the first playoff game by an Australian, the first Australian NHLer assisted on the game’s first goal to earn the first playoff point for an Australian
Walker did not play again in the postseason, so all we’re left with is this absolutely perfect locker room celebration.
May 7: Game Six at Pittsburgh
The Pittsburgh Penguins eliminated the Washington Capitals. This sentence applies to 1991, 1992, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2009, 2016, and 2017. But not 1994, as Chris on twitter reminded us on a daily basis.
Twenty eighteen looked like another loss. Nicklas Backstrom, Andre Burakovsky, and Tom Wilson were all out for various reasons. The team needed a hero, and they got one in Evgeny Kuznetsov. In overtime of Game Six Ovechkin served Kuznetsov a breakaway pass. Kuznetsov raced to put thew puck through Matt Murray’s five hole.
Twenty four years and seven defeats later, the Caps beat the Pens. They knew instantly how big the moment was; you can tell by the recognizably human emotion on Blaine Forsythe’s face.
John Walton’s call told the story: Kuznetsov had exorcised Washington’s demons by slaying Pittsburgh. That’s a nice phrase; here’s a shirt.
May 21 and 23: Games Six and Seven vs Tampa
The Caps won the first two games of the Tampa series by a margin of 10 goals to 4, but home ice treated them poorly. The team faced Game Six as possible elimination. With everything on the line, the team found salvation in a player who was having the worst season of his professional career. Goalie Braden Holtby had been effectively benched in February and March, returned to number-one duty in the postseason, and then shut the lights out.
it's better with music pic.twitter.com/zYRSYUh8kE
— Josh Billinson (@jbillinson) May 23, 2018
In Game Six, Holtby stopped 24 of 24 shots to earn his first shutout of the season. In Game Seven, he stopped 34 of 34 to ensure the Caps their first Cup final appearance in twenty years.
We’ll see Holtby again further down the list.
May 28: Game One vs Vegas
Vegas goalie Marc-Andre Fleury had a non-neglible role in eliminating the Caps of yore when he was backstopping Pittsburgh. Heading into the final round of the playoffs, Fleury was nigh unbeatable, sporting one the best save percentages in NHL history.
Then he met the 2018 Caps.
Tom Wilson out-muscled Nate Schmidt to put a puck on Fleury, but it wasn’t dangerous…until Fleury’s skate redirected it over the goal line. An own-goal by the Caps nemesis, and in the Cup Final.
After saving 94.7 percent of shots in the first three rounds, Fleury went on to save 85.3 percent against the Caps.
May 30: Game Two at Vegas
Brooks Orpik, 37, last scored a goal on February 26, 2016, approximately one million years ago. We thought he just wasn’t a big goal-scorer, but it turns out he was just waiting for the right time.
When Lars Eller’s pass found Orpik, the release didn’t look like it belong to a stay-at-home defenseman. It was poetry.
It was the game-winner. Brooks Orpik earned the Caps’ first Cup Final win in franchise history.
May 30: Game Two at Vegas
It’s Braden again. Late in Game Two, with the Caps desperate to take one win home to DC, Vegas’ attack was relentless. Shea Theodore pushed the puck into the Caps’ zone. A wild bounce delivered it to Cody Eakin. Holtby readied for a shot, but Eakin passed it cross-slot to Alex Tuch.
Nine-hundred ninety-nine times out of 1000, that’s a goal. Holtby ensured this was not one of those times. His stick hand reached from an impossibly far post to stop the shot. It was astonishing – just look at Ovi’s reaction.
T-shirts were made, even a flipbook. It’s immortal.
June 7: Game Five at Vegas
It felt like the Caps weren’t meant to win Game Five. They were down a goal heading into the third period, and Vegas was still pushing. The Caps’ fourth line was getting hemmed in, but when opportunity knocked for Devante Smith-Pelly, he knocked back.
Brooks Orpik kept the puck in the offensive zone, and Smith-Pelly caught it. DSP kicked the puck to his stick, but he was already falling. Somehow, he torqued his body and wristed the puck on net.
That one followed DSP’s goal in Game Four’s offensive explosion. Peak clutch-ness.
Under three minutes later, Lars Eller, the man who scored an ugly goal to win Washington’s first game of the playoffs, notched another ugly one, snatching a loose puck behind Marc-Andre Fleury to give the Caps a lead that would not relent, which gave us one more moment worth remembering forever:
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