Can You Say Cup? Capitals Defeat Golden Knights, Win First Stanley Cup in Team History!
As the clock ticked down and icing was called with 0.6 seconds left, the Washington Capitals bench began to celebrate. The Stanley Cup would be heading to the nation's capital for the first time in the franchise's 44 years in the National Hockey League. Not only that, but the great Alexander Ovechkin finally got his first Stanley Cup in his long, illustrious 13-year career with the team. After years of being unable to make it out of the second round in the playoffs, this was finally the Capitals moment to celebrate what many thought they would have been able to achieve for years.
Both teams had their chances to take control in the first period of this one, but the goaltenders stood tall in their nets. The best scoring opportunities came during a Caps power play late in the first. It started with a patented one-timer from Alexander Ovechkin at the left circle that found its way past Marc-Andre Fluery and hit the post to keep the game scoreless. Just seconds later, Washington was threatening again on a shot by John Carlson that Fluery stopped. The rebound bounced out to Nicklas Backstrom who tried to feed a pass to Ovechkin with a wide open net on the other side but the puck skipped by him. Then came Tomas Nosek with the Golden Knights still shorthanded down the left side of the ice and two defenders closing in on him. Nosek fired a shot on Braden Holtby that went off his mask and back into the possession of the Caps. Despite these chances, Fluery and Holtby held their own for their respective teams and headed to the locker room in a scoreless game.
However, the Capitals came out hot in the second period and challenged Fluery in the early going of the period. Another Washington power play saw Carlson feed a pass to Evgeny Kuznetsov near the side of the net for a scoring opportunity, but Fluery made an impressive move to his left to seal off the shot from making its way into the goal mouth and keep the game scoreless. Minutes later when it was the Golden Knight's turn to challenge Holtby things backfired. When Deryk Engelland's shot went off the glass the play was suddenly going in the opposite direction. The rebound by Kuznetsov was passed along to Tom Wilson who found a wide open Jakub Vrana streaking past the only Vegas defender in his way and going top shelf on Fluery to put the Caps in front 1-0 with 13:36 remaining in the period. Vegas wasted no time responding just over three minutes later when Reilly Smith curled around the Washington net and passed it over to Nate Schmidt, Schmidt fired a shot into traffic and the puck was redirected of the skate of the Caps defenseman Matt Niskanen and between Holtby's legs to tie it back up.
No sooner does Vegas respond, Washington sent a response of its own after a tripping penalty on Brayden McNabb sent the Caps back to a power play. Similar to the play in the first period Backstrom found Ovechkin with a wide open net on the opposite side, but this time he hit his target and Ovechkin put it in the back of the net off of Fluery to give Washington a 2-1 lead on the power play goal. But yet again the Vegas Golden Knights would fight back to tie it back up just two minutes later. A shot by Colin Miller found its way to Tomas Tatar who fired a shot in front of the net and put across the line by David Perron. Washington challenged the play for goaltender interference as Holtby was tripped up in the skates of Perron, impeding his ability to try and make a save. However, the goal was upheld likely due to the fact Christian Djoos was pushing Perron onto the back of his skates which caused the contact with Holtby in front of the net. As the period winded down and so did the Vegas power play, the Golden Knights took a 3-2 lead with just under 30 seconds remaining in the period. A shot by Shea Theodore was rebounded by Alex Tuch in front who found a wide open Reilly Smith on the opposite side of the net. Tuch made the pass over to Smith who did not miss a beat on the wide open cage and put it in the back of the net, giving Vegas the lead and momentum heading into the final period of Game 5.
The Capitals were determined to finish off this series in five games and avoid giving Vegas any chance of pulling off a 3-1 series comeback to win the Stanley Cup. Washington peppered Fluery with clear shots at the start of the period and it was only a matter of time before one of them was able to break through the goaltender. Eventually that break came with just over 10 minutes remaining in the game when Brooks Orpik kept the puck in the offensive zone near the blue line. Orpik fired a shot in front of the net that found its way through two Vegas defenders and onto the stick of Devante Smith-Pelly. Smith-Pelly falling to the ground due to a Golden Knight's stick tripping him up, managed to fire a shot around the pad of Fluery and into the net to tie it up at three. Soon after that, the Caps would put themselves back in front for good with just under eight minutes remaining. A wide open shot by Brett Connolly was squeezed by Fluery, but found its way through his legs and onto the stick of Lars Eller with a wide open net to give the Caps a 4-3 lead. Despite pulling Fluery with two minutes remaining, the Golden Knights were unable to get any high quality chances on Braden Holtby and the celebration was on for Washington with a 4-3 victory to win the series in five games, taking the last four games after losing Game 1.
With the comeback victory in Game 5 came the end of a tremendous inaugural season for the Vegas Golden Knights. As the Capitals celebrated, all Vegas could do was watch and wait for the handshake line before saluting their fans at center ice. As much as it may pain the players and their fans to come so close to glory in a season where they were mighty underdogs, they have nothing to be ashamed of. The tale of the Golden Knights inaugural season will live on forever in hockey's history books and in the hearts of the Vegas community they touched when tragedy struck the city before the season started last October.
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