Before this season, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals met in the playoffs 11 times. Those appearances resulted in only one Caps series win in 1994. The back-to-back Stanley Cup champions in the second round this year seemed like definite heartbreak to Washington fans, who have seen a 26-year championship drought in all big four D.C. sports.
The Capitals were subject to criticism for never surpassing the second round, especially NHL superstar Alexander Ovechkin, an undeniably legendary player who just hasn’t been able to bring home a Stanley Cup. Despite his high status in the league, he has controversially been said to choke in big games. USA Today even suggested that the Caps trade him last year after losing to the Penguins in the playoffs.
With the Caps consistently doing well in the regular season but losing in the playoffs, the pessimism of Washington fans did not expect to see the Caps one goal away from eliminating the Pens in overtime of Game 6. At least fans thought that they had seen this sad story before. “Even though we were only a goal away I knew not to get my hopes up,” freshman Ron Berlin said. “If you know the caps then you know they’re gonna mess it up at the last second.”
When Ovechkin gave forward Evgeny Kuznetsov a setup for a breakaway, he was only one goal away from ending the second-round drought.
What stood in front of Kuznetsov was Pens goalie Matt Murray, representing the dominance of the Pittsburgh team. He had never lost a playoff series in his career. Kuznetsov entered the NHL with the Caps in 2012 and in his most recent season began to border a superstar level of skill. Alone in front of the net, Kuznetsov pulled the puck between Murray’s legs, sending the Caps players off the bench. In a move he pulled from the FIFA video game series, his celebration imitated a soaring bird, something he does for his daughter because she “loves that stuff.”
After three close series wins, the final opponent to beat is the Vegas Golden Knights. In their first year in existence, the Knights have gone through their own playoff run in fewer games than the Caps, even winning 4-0 in their first round against the LA Kings. With the odds of Vegas winning the Stanley cup placed at 500-1 at the beginning of the season, the Knights made history with the most successful debut season of any NHL team. “Vegas fans need to wait at least another year before they win the Cup,” sophomore Scotty Collinson said.
Despite the Golden Knights’ domination, the Caps have proven that this year is different from past failures. After coming back from two games against Columbus to win four straight, beating the Penguins in the second round and coming back from 3-2 games against Tampa, Washington has shown resilience. “I’m so excited for the Caps,” parent Amy Glaizer said. “Ovie might finally get to raise the cup, and no one deserves it more than him.”
*The Caps on June 5th were up 3-1 in the series. After losing the game one in Vegas, the Caps rebounded quickly with a win at Vegas. They returned home and with the help of the fans, won both games at home to raise the series lead to 3-1. In game 3 the Caps won 3-2, just edging out the Knights, but in Game 4 they blew out the Knights, 6-2 with three early goals in the first period. With one more win the Caps win their first title.
*The caps won the series 4-1, earning their first Stanley Cup in franchise history.