Ovechkin, Caps finally break through for first Stanley Cup
Alex Ovechkin was in agony on the Washington Capitals bench.
The team’s superstar captain and his teammates were one win away from the Stanley Cup and held a 4-3 lead over the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 5 of the Cup Final at T-Mobile Arena on Thursday night.
And with under a minute to go, teammate Lars Eller, who had given the Capitals the lead a few minutes earlier, crossed the center red line with the puck on his stick with the Golden Knights’ net empty. But Eller’s shot, which would’ve clinched the Cup, went wide.
Ovechkin was beside himself. He grabbed his helmet with both hands, despite still having his stick in one of them, as if he couldn’t take it anymore.
He needn’t have worried.
Just a few minutes later, he was on the ice with his teammates, jubilantly celebrating the first Stanley Cup in the franchise’s 43-season history.
“Just unbelievable! I don’t know what to say!” an elated Ovechkin told Pierre McGuire on NBC television. “It’s just unbelievable! I’m so happy for my teammates and the people back in Washington watching.”
Shortly thereafter, and after receiving the Conn Smythe Trophy as the Stanley Cup Playoffs MVP, Ovechkin hoisted the Cup for the first time in his remarkable 13-season career. He is also the first Russia-born captain to lead his team to the Stanley Cup.
Washington goaltender Braden Holtby made 28 saves in Game 5.
“Years of heartbreak, years of breaking things down and trying again, breaking things down and trying again,” he said on NHL.com. “This group never gave up, and we finally did it.”
Eller broke a 3-3 tie with 7:37 left in regulation when he slammed in a puck that had slipped through the pads of Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, off a shot from Brett Connolly, and lay behind Fleury just outside the crease.
Fleury “was so far out I couldn’t get in front of him, which is usually where the rebound comes,” Eller said. “So I got behind him and the puck just squeaks through. Usually, Connolly shoots between the legs, and it was just at the right place at the right moment.”
The Capitals rallied from 3-2 and 2-1 deficits in the game.
“We never make it easy, do we?” Washington defenseman Matt Niskanen asked. “But, man, what a group of guys and what a performance from a lot of individuals. We played together, showed a lot of character. That’s something we got criticized for in the past. Boy, we showed a ton of it this spring.”
Washington also tied the NHL record for most road wins in a postseason (10).
Devante Smith-Pelly tied Thursday night’s game 3-3 with 10:08 left in regulation when he put in a loose puck from the slot while being tripped by Vegas defenseman Colin Miller. It was Smith-Pelly’s seventh goal of the playoffs and third in three games.
The goal was made possible when defenseman Brooks Orpik barely kept the puck in, keeping it on the blue line, at the left point.
Vegas lost a fourth consecutive game for the first time in its historic inaugural season.
“I think people would have said we would have won 20 games this year, so to find ourselves playing for a Stanley Cup, it’s pretty special, but just a little bit short,” Golden Knights forward James Neal said. “But proud of the guys.”
They led 3-2 after a wild second period, in which all five goals were scored.
“We worked hard tonight, we competed hard, just couldn’t beat that team,” Vegas coach Gerard Gallant said. “They deserved the Stanley Cup.”
Reilly Smith’s power-play goal with 28.2 seconds left in the second broke a 2-2 tie. He controlled a cross-slot pass from Alex Tuch with both skates before putting a shot into the empty side of the net from the bottom of the right circle.
David Perron was credited with the goal that tied it 2-2 for Vegas with 7:04 left in the middle period. He was battling Capitals defenseman Christian Djoos in the goal crease behind Holtby, when former Red Wing Tomas Tatar’s re-direct from the slot hit Perron and bounced into the net.
Capitals coach Barry Trotz challenged the goal on the grounds of goaltender interference. But it was ruled that Perron only knocked Holtby down because Djoos knocked Perron down to cause that collision.
The goal was allowed.
Ovechkin’s power-play goal gave Washington a 2-1 lead 10:14 into the second period on a one-timer from the bottom of the left circle. It was Ovechkin’s playoffs-leading 15th goal, which also breaks the Capitals’ single-season playoff goal record of 14 set by John Druce in 1990.
That came just 34 seconds after defenseman Nate Schmidt put Vegas on the board to tie the game 1-1, when Schmidt’s shot from the top of the right circle deflected in off the skate of Washington defenseman Matt Niskanen.
The Capitals Jakub Vrana opened the scoring 6:24 into the middle period with a wrist shot from the left circle off the rush.