Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals were able to lay their playoff demons to rest and finally win a Stanley Cup after they beat the Las Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday night.
In the moments leading up to the game Washington forward Alex Ovechkin took part in some early gamesmanship with Vegas goalie Marc-Andre Fleurys by slashing his stick in the pregame warm ups before Fleury returned the favor with a stick to Ovechkin’s leg. Both teams were ready to set the tempo and physical even before the game started with the faces of both franchises ready to go.
Game 5 got off to a fast, physical start for both teams with little to distinguish them. Both teams exchanged rushes of offense zone time for the first several minutes of the game. The physicality ramped up early with a huge hit from Capitals forward Tom Wilson on Knights’ forward William Karlsson, that appeared to injure him on the play as he was slow to return to Vegas’ bench. However, he was able to play for the rest of the game.
The Capitals were given an early opportunity to take the lead with a powerplay with just under ten minutes to go. Early into their man advantage, Ovechkin rang a shot off of the post, the Capitals’ best chance to grab an early game 5 lead on the power play.
The Knights were able to kill the penalty and prevent the Capitals from grabbing the early lead. This power play proved to be the best opportunity for either team to score in the first but the teams headed into the intermission tied at zero.
Seconds into the second period, the T.J. Oshie was able to draw a tripping penalty to put the Capitals back onto the power play. The Capitals were unable to score on the power play after some great goalkeeping from Fleury, who had stopped all twelve shots he had faced up to that point in the game.
Immediately after the end of Washington’s power play, Vegas drew a penalty for a high stick, giving them their first power play of the game. Like the Capitals’ power plays, the Golden Knights were unsuccessful on their first one.
With thirteen minutes to go in the first, the Capitals took advantage of an opportunity to counter attack and forward Jakub Vrana beat Fleury glove side to give the Capitals the first goal of the game.
Three minutes later Vegas was able to equalize with a shot from Nate Schmidt that deflected off the skate of Washington defenseman Matt Niskanen. Seconds later Vegas committed another penalty to put Washington back on the power play. Just seconds in Ovechkin was able to take advantage and put the Capitals back on top. However, the lead would not last as David Perron would tie the game up at two just two minutes later.
With a little over two minutes to go in the second Ovechkin tripped Vegas forward William Karlsson, giving the Knights a power play for nearly the remainder of the period. This time former bruin Reilly Smith was able to find the back of the net for his second goal in as many games and to give Vegas its first lead of the game with thirty seconds remaining in the second. However, a scrum ensued following the goal leading to penalties against Brooks Orpik and Alex Tuch and a four on four situation.
After a five goal second period, the teams entered the final frame with the Golden Knights up three to two.
The action picked up immediately in the third with the teams trading excellent opportunities with the goalies robbing a goal each, all within the first two minutes. Five minutes into the period, the Capitals would get their first opportunity at a power play in the final frame. The best opportunity on the power play came from Vegas when forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare intercepted a pass and had a breakaway but was shut down by a great defensive effort from Ovechkin.
With ten minutes left in the game Washington forward Devante Smith-Pelly did his best Bobby Orr impression and scored the game-tying goal, which was his third straight game with a goal. Brooks Orpik was just barely able to keep the puck in the zone and was able to find a way to get the puck back to the net.
The Capitals were not done scoring yet, with seven to go forward Lars Eller found the puck on a second chance opportunity and was able to find the back of the net and give Washington the lead. The Knights would not be able to score and the Capitals were able to secure their first Stanley Cup Title in the team’s 44 year history.
For Vegas to come so close to a title in the first year of their existence is something that has to be recognized. After the tragic shooting in Las Vegas last fall, the city needed something to rally around and the Knights gave them that by having unprecedented success for an expansion team in their first year with 51 wins and a Finals appearance. Vegas was also able to prove that it deserved to have an NHL team with the passion the fans displayed throughout the team’s inaugural season.
After the game, Alex Ovechkin was named the Conn Smythe trophy winner, the award given to the most valuable player of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, for being the playoff leader in goals and leading the Capitals to their first title. Ovechkin is a generational talent and will finally be able to add his name to Lord Stanley’s Cup and effectively cement his place in NHL history.
Photo from Bleacher Report on Twitter