In the end, the Caps not only had their long-deferred Cup, but an entire first-class organization, a consistent victor since the 1982-83 season and the best regular season team in the National Hockey League over the past 10 years, would ultimately be remembered for its gifts, for its ability to keep hoping and battling. They remain one pro sports’ most unbelievable stories, starting the year with 500-1 odds to win the title. Ovechkin shouted “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!” through his gap-toothed grin before skating away and hoisting the prize over his head for a victory lap in front of thousands of red-clad fans.
“I never want to forget that last second”, coach Barry Trotz said.
And the Capitals had to replace three top-six defensemen and two top-six forwards from last year’s team-yet they marched all of the way to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1998.
Vegas had a slight edge in the number of chances, with a couple of bouncing pucks in and around Holtby’s crease, but Washington came closest to scoring when Ovechkin ripped a one timer off the post that stayed out on a power play from his patented spot near the left faceoff dot.
“The Holtby Grail”, she said, referring to Braden Holtby’s stupefying, physics-defying save late in a one-goal affair in Game 2, after which the Golden Knights never won again.
“But now you see that it takes an entire team to get this job done and that’s what we did”.
But Hughes, too, felt the difference, that the turning point had already happened before the puck dropped Thursday night. So the Golden Knights’ achievement is truly unique.
“Nobody expected us to be here”, said Gallant “It’ll feel a lot better in a few days, but tonight’s a tough loss”. Riding the incredible wave of energy from the tens of thousands packed into and around the arena, I kept walking, and walking, and walking, a smattering of sweater-wearing revelers within view the whole way, almost three miles, all the way to my front door, to finish the copy that will actually live to see the daylight.
The Caps also came back from series deficits in all four rounds and clinched all four series on the road. Gerard Gallant, cast aside by the Florida Panthers 22 games into the 2015-16 season, has his team playing high-pressure, disciplined hockey, and the fact that he has been largely rolling four lines, has meant that some of his players have been getting more of an opportunity to shine than they had had at their previous clubs.
“There’s no Plan B or backdoor to go to here”, defenseman Nate Schmidt said.
The TV clock disappeared; play continued.
The Capitals’ triumph also adds another chapter to a stretch of sweet relief for long-suffering, loyal sports fans across North America. When the horn finally sounds, Ovechkin hopped off the bench in glee, joining his teammates in a huge pile of thrown sticks and helmets by the end boards.
In the Ovechkin era, the list of Capitals heartbreak is long.
The Capitals had only made the Cup Final once before and the semifinals twice. The referees let the goal stand after reviewing the play. Nicklas Backstrom, who spent 10 seasons with Ovechkin before they finally reached the peak.
Perron actually scored from his backside for the second Vegas goal.
After securing victory, the ice was overrun with players and families.
However, the hosts could not hold on to their lead with Devante Smith-Pelly equalising – before Eller scored what proved to be the championship-deciding goal.
“That’s one of the attractive things about our profession and life in general, just that at any time there’s adversity, if you take the right mindset and surround yourself with the right people, you can come out stronger”, Holtby said.
But now we know. Eller then fired the rebound into the vacated net.
Alex Ovechkin, the face of the Capitals franchise who for years bore the brunt of the blame for his team’s shortcomings, became the first Russian-born captain to hoist the Stanley Cup and was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the play-offs. The Caps were tied for the fifth-longest active Cup drought with Philadelphia, which won it in 1974.