The Capitals had a good time with the Stanley Cup this weekend

For those of you that spent the weekend doing things like enjoying the summer rather than wasting your life on the internet, you might not have seen the scenes in Washington in the aftermath of the Capitals winning the Stanley Cup.

The scenes were pretty wild. Stuff you tend to see when a team wins the Stanley Cup, just ramped up a few miles per hour.

Here’s a tweet from Jeremy Roenick to give you all an idea:

Anyway, it all began on Saturday, Nationals hosting the Giants at noon. The Nats had a pregame ceremony for the Caps, which teams tend to do nowadays when a franchise in the same city wins a title.

Out to throw out the first pitch was the man himself, Alex Ovechkin, with the Cup right behind him at the back end of the mound.

Any and all rumors of Ovechkin potentially joining the Nationals as they look to become the next Washington team to erase years of disappointment with a title (a la LeBron to the Browns) were quelled in short order.

The get gets underway and here comes scenes from during the game, like this guy right here. You wonder why people get hit by balls so often.

The Nationals went on to win 7-5 as they continue to race neck-and-neck with the upstart Braves in the NL East.

Oh jeez, look at these idio– wait, actually, it’s the Capitals.

Eventually, everyone joins in.

Casual sports fans may not completely understand what makes the Stanley Cup the greatest trophy in sports. It’s the way it brings cities, communities, regions together unlike anything else in sports. That’s not to take away from a World Series, a Super Bowl, a NBA title, or anything else, but a Stanley Cup is just on another level. Between the emotion and excitement that hockey brings out in people, the legacy and heritage behind that trophy, and the relatable, everyman persona hockey players tend to have, winning the Stanley Cup creates a vibe that can’t be matched.

Like this right here. Ovechkin carrying the Cup down the sidewalk in Georgetown. He’s followed by a mob of fans trying to get a snap of the trophy.

There’s more. Here’s T.J. Oshie letting fans get their closeup with the Cup.

The Stanley Cup made a couple more friends on Saturday as well.

If you still need to be sold on how big a deal this is for Washington, there’s a Stanley Cup tracker compiling the Cup’s every move. Pretty unbelievable.

Fortunately, the Cup (and Ovechkin) made it home safely. Probably not the worst night sleep Ovi has had. He’ll need to rest up for the parade on Tuesday, which I’m sure won’t disappoint.

Special Friday Blog Dump: Ovechkin is a champion at last

Put this right up there with the Rangers winning in 1994. Ray Bourque winning in 2001. Dave Andreychuk winning in 2004.

Alex Ovechkin breaking through and winning the Stanley Cup at last is one of the greatest moments in recent Stanley Cup history.

Ovechkin finally gets it after 607 goals, 1,122 points, and over 1,000 games. A career that were it to end sans a Stanley Cup still would’ve been one of the great NHL careers. Then there’s his sidekick Nicklas Backstrom, who will go down as one of the great players of his generation. Backstrom gets his name on the most famous trophy in sports after a 815-game slate that has 590 assists and 799 points to show for it.

This image says it all.

The joy and enthusiasm Ovechkin showed on the ice after the win made the moment even better. You could see the years and years of frustration all coming out at once.

Then there’s Barry Trotz. Nineteen years of being a NHL head coach between the Predators and Capitals. A guy who prior to this season was just never able to get over that hump between Nashville and Washington. Always running into Detroit, or Pittsburgh, or San Jose, or whoever else. Coaching on an expiring contract, Trotz was finally able to break through this year.

That was the theme of this Capitals team. A group of guys that for years were running into everything but a title run. This year none of them were going to be denied.

Washington was the type of team you see every handful of years. Came into the playoffs under the radar, playing well but not among the favorites. And most importably, had a resolve that was unmatched by anyone else.

That’s exactly how they won Game 5 to clinch the Stanley Cup. It was a crazy, back-and-forth game for the final 40 minutes. They went into the third period trailing 3-2, then stormed back for two goals in the final 20 minutes to win in regulation.

It was the type of game you only win if you have the toughness and resiliency the Caps had. And that’s why they’re champions.

The Moment

Nothing tops this. Obviously what T.J. Oshie, his father who has Alzheimer’s, and his family is going through, you never wish that on anybody. But you could tell how special a moment that was for Oshie, winning that Cup with his father watching. That’s what it’s all about.

And count Oshie in as another guy on this roster that finally shook the ‘couldn’t get over the hump’ label. He was on some really good Blues teams before being traded to the Capitals in 2015. And he’s been one of the key pieces of the puzzle to Washington’s success ever since.

Goal of Game 5

Three goals in the final three games and Devante Smith-Pelly made them all count. But this one was the nicest. Gets inside, then scores as he’s leaving his feet.

Smith-Pelly’s seven postseason goals matched his total from the regular season. The Capitals won six of their final seven games en route to winning the Stanley Cup, and he was one Washington’s best players over that stretch.

Other guys who could’ve won the Conn Smythe

  • Evgeny Kuznetsov: Finished the playoffs with 32 points. Only one other player since 1997 had reached that point total in a postseason, when Evgeni Malkin recorded 36 points in 2009.
  • Braden Holtby: 16-7, 2.16 GAA, .922 save percentage. Holtby has been sensational in the playoffs, and he was rewarded for it this year.
  • T.J. Oshie: Oshie was the catalyst of the second line with Nicklas Backstrom and Jakub Vrana (and Lars Eller at times). That line was the Capitals best at many points of the playoffs.
  • John Carlson: Carlson was just the fourth defenseman to record 20 points in a postseason since Brian Leetch hung 34 in the 1994 playoffs. The other three? Chris Pronger in 2006, Duncan Keith in 2015, and Brent Burns in 2016. Have you heard he’ll be an unrestricted free agent?

Other thoughts

*Five players with 20-plus points for the Capitals this postseason. First team to do so since the 1991 North Stars.

*Two more reached 15: Lars Eller (18) and Tom Wilson (15).

*12 players on this Capitals roster were first round picks, including Washington’s entire entire top-nine forwards.

  • Nicklas Backstrom (4th overall in 2006)
  • Andre Burakovsky (23rd overall in 2013)
  • Brett Connolly (6th overall in 2010)
  • Lars Eller (13th overall in 2007)
  • Evgeny Kuznetsov (26th overall in 2010)
  • T.J. Oshie (24th overall in 2005)
  • Alex Ovechkin (1st overall in 2004)
  • Jakub Vrana (13th overall in 2014)
  • Tom Wilson (16th overall in 2012)

*Cup-less club is now down to 11: Jets, Canucks, Blues, Sharks, Senators, Predators, Wild, Panthers, Blue Jackets, Sabres, Coyotes.

*Next to win their first Stanley Cup? Going with the Blues.

*Marc-Andre Fleury finished the series with a .853 save percentage.

*Excited to see what this Vegas team looks like come October. They have a lot of cap space, a lot of assets. They can make some noise and be right back in the mix next season.

*The early favorites for next year’s Stanley Cup Final: Tampa Bay out of East, Nashville out of the West.

Taking you out of the blog and into the weekend: 17 years ago on Saturday – Ray Bourque wins his first Stanley Cup.

Does a Cup change the conversation surrounding Ovechkin? You bet it does

I get what Steve Simmons is getting at here, and I don’t totally disagree. If Alex Ovechkin isn’t the greatest goal scorer in NHL history, he’s one of the best ever. A title doesn’t change anything there.

But you’re lying if you don’t think a Stanley Cup doesn’t add to his legacy. Especially when it’s Ovechkin that has arguably been the Capitals’ best player during this run. He’s led the way here, and will most likely win the Conn Smythe if Washington finishes off Vegas here.

Yes, Evgeny Kuznetsov has been great. The Capitals have played great team hockey (which literally every team that has ever won the Stanley Cup has done). Ovechkin has led the way for this team. He’s done everything for Washington on this run.

Have people dropped the labels of Ovechkin being just a goal scorer, being a guy that can’t get it done in the playoffs, and so on? Yes. But him having this run to add to his resume in the discussion for the greatest goal scorer ever with Mike Bossy, Brett Hull, Bobby Hull, Phil Esposito, and Maurice Richard goes a long way.

Capitals offense has been historically good this postseason

Much of the credit for this Capitals run – which currently has them one win shy of their first Stanley Cup – has gone to their smothering defense, physicality, and clogging the middle to ice, stifling the transition game of opponents.

While those factors have played a huge role in the Caps success this postseason, don’t let that make you think Washington’s identity as an offensive juggernaut – an identity they’ve carried during the Alex Ovechkin era – has gone away. In fact, it’s as real as ever.

Nobody knows this better than Marc-Andre Fleury, who came in the Stanley Cup Final as the unabashed leader in the Conn Smythe race. That was before he allowed 16 goals in the first four games of the Cup Final, allowing three-plus goals each game. Fleury is the latest in a long line of netminders victimized by the Caps offense this postseason, as Washington has found the back of the net at least three times in 17 of their 23 postseason games. They hung three or more in all six of their games against Blue Jackets netminder Sergei Bobrovsky in the First Round, three more times against Matt Murray in the second, and then three more times against Andrei Vasilevskiy in the Eastern Conference Final. So while Fleury’s .845 save percentage and 4.08 GAA in this series is ugly, he’s not in bad company.

The Capitals have scored an average of 3.57 goals per game in these playoffs, which currently stands 13th all-time among teams that have played at least 20 games in a postseason. No team has reached that threshold since the 1996 Avalanche averaged 3.64 en route to a title. The closest any team has come since was the 2010 Blackhawks, which averaged 3.55. After that it’s the 1998 Red Wings and 2014 Kings, who averaged 3.41 and 3.38, respectively.

And it’s coming from up and down the lineup, too. Four players have scored 20 points, the 17th time a team has had four players reach that threshold in one postseason. If John Carlson gets one more point, they’ll become the sixth team in NHL history to have five different players with 20 points in one postseason, and the first since the 1991 North Stars. The previous four came from the 1980s Oilers (who did it three times) and Islanders, two teams that nobody would accuse of being anemic.

With Lars Eller within striking distance of 20 (he currently has 17 points), the Capitals could become just the third team ever to have six. They would join the 1983 Islanders and 1985 Oilers.

Tom Wilson (14 points) makes it seven players with double digits with Matt Niskanen (9 points) and Jay Beagle, Dmitry Orlov, and Brett Connolly (8 each) sitting on the doorstep. Nine different players have scored at least five goals.

Meanwhile, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Alex Ovechkin are leading the way with historically-good postseasons.

Kuznetsov, who had four assists in the Capitals 6-2 win in Game 4, has 31 points this postseason. Only two other players have reached that mark since 1997, when Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby put up 36 and 31, respectively, in 2009.

Ovechkin is sitting on 14 goals, which is tied for the most by a Capital in a postseason. With one more goal, he’ll become the 22nd player in NHL history to score 15 goals in a postseason. Crosby, who potted 15 in 2009, is the only player that has reached that mark since 1997.

And while Kuznetsov is the 27th player to reach 31 points in a postseason and Ovechkin would be the 22nd to get 15 goals, they represent an outlier on the spectrum of NHL history.

Of those 27 postseason performances in which we saw 31 points, 24 came in a period between 1981-96 – a period when, well, you’ve probably seen some of those games. Of the 21 in which we’ve seen 15 goals, 17 came during that same time period.

Many of those performances featured names like Gretzky, Bossy, Lemieux, Kurri, Messier, Sakic, etc.

The offensive numbers the 2018 Capitals have put up mimic something from 1988. So while we’ve seen this Capitals team do some things we haven’t seen in quite some time, the offense has gone nowhere. It’s as good as it’s ever been.

The Capitals slugged their way to a Game 3 win

The Capitals are near-unbeatable when they establish the physical tone in a game. They did just that on Saturday night and they’re two wins shy of a Stanley Cup as a result.

Right off the opening hop, the Caps were flying. They ran over and ran through anything and everything on the ice. Washington forced Vegas into a physical, checking game, and the Golden Knights played right into the Capitals hands.

Washington dominated for the first 40 minutes of the game. The only thing that kept the game 2-0 after two periods as opposed to 6-0 was Marc-Andre Fleury, who was spectacular. Fleury made 23 saves, several of which were of the ‘wow what a save’ variety. Fleury was the reason the Golden Knights were very much in it when they came out fast in the third period and were in position tie it after Tomas Nosek cut the lead to 2-1 early in the period.

You have to credit the Caps, who executed the gameplan and got the Golden Knights to play a certain way. It got Vegas off their game and they never really recovered from it.

That’s what the theme has been for Washington in these playoffs. Guys stepping up big in key moments, and players rising to the occasion and elevating their game. It hadn’t happened enough in years prior but it’s happened plenty this year. It’s what has them this close to the Cup.

Speaking of players stepping up..

Evgeny Kuznetsov and Alex Ovechkin are the catalysts of this Capitals team. Those two guys have been unbelievable this postseason and the rest of the team seems to feed off it.

Kuznetsov left Game 2 with an upper-body injury that didn’t look good based on how he left the ice following the hit he took from Brayden McNabb that caused the injury. He came back for Game 3 and all he did was score a goal and assist, upping his NHL-high point total this postseason to 27.

Oh, and he brought back the arm-flapping celly after scoring his 12th goal of the postseason.

Meanwhile, Ovechkin made history of his own by scoring his 14th goal of the playoffs in the second period, tying John Druce for the most all-time by a Capital in a single postseason.

And obviously the big story with Kuznetsov is the injury he suffered that knocked him out of Game 2. Then he comes out and puts forth a performance like that in Game 3. It reminds you of what Sean Couturier did for the Flyers back in the First Round when he suffered a knee injury colliding with Radko Gudas in practice. We found out after the fact Couturier was playing on a torn MCL. I can see us learning that Kuznetsov was playing with a similar type of injury after this series is over.

Play of the night

What a goal. First the effort by Jay Beagle to win that foot race with Shea Theodore then fish the puck out of the corner and get it to Devante Smith-Pelly, who put it high corner with a beauty of a shot. That goal pretty much sealed the win for the Capitals and ended any hopes of Vegas finishing off their third-period rally.

Other thoughts

*Evgeny Kuznetsov is sitting on 27 points this postseason. Only four players have reached 30 since the 2004-05 lockout – Evgeni Malkin (36 in 2008-09), Sidney Crosby (31 in 2008-09), Daniel Briere (30 in 2009-10), and Logan Couture (30 in 2015-16).

*Alex Ovechkin has 14 goals this postseason. Only one player since 1997 has 15 – Sidney Crosby.

*This heat map put out by Neil Greenberg of the Washington Post is a snapshot of just how dominant Ovechkin has been.

*This is the first time a Washington team has held a series lead in a championship round since the Bullets led the SuperSonics 1-0 in the 1979 NBA Finals.

*Let’s put that into context before simply saying ‘WOW, Washington went 39 years without leading a championship series.’ First and foremost, the Redskins have won three Super Bowls in that span, and obviously the NFL doesn’t have playoff series. For 26 of those 39 years, Washington didn’t have a MLB franchise. And despite being in the mix quite a few times, the Nationals haven’t reached the World Series since relocating to Washington from Montreal in 2005. So this isn’t necessarily Buffalo we’re talking about here.

*A good sign for the Caps – of the 27 times the Stanley Cup Final was tied 1-1 prior to this year, the Game 3 winner has gone on to win the Stanley Cup in 21 of those series.

*A good sign for Vegas – the last three teams to fall behind 2-1 after splitting the first two games has won the Stanley Cup – the 2013 and ’15 Blackhawks, and the 2004 Lightning. The last team to win after splitting the first two games and winning Game 3 was the 2002 Red Wings.

*Hard hat: Jay Beagle – When the Capitals play their best, Beagle always seems to be one of the guys setting the tone. That was the case again on Saturday, when he finished with two assists and was a plus-two in 13:25.

*Matt Niskanen was incredible again on Saturday. Four hits, three blocks, plus-two in 27:16. Logged 2:26 shorthanded. Niskanen is one of the big reasons the Caps are up 2-1 right now.

*Michal Kempny stepped on a puck during warmups and went down, hitting his face hard against the boards. Scary situation, one that can be very dangerous (i.e. Taylor Hall). The spill ceded itself to a look that is peak Stanley Cup Final.

*One last thought: This image will live forever. Alex Ovechkin is playing his best hockey and living his best life right now.

25 Lars Ellers and you win every year

The role Lars Eller plays on this Capitals team is one that typically goes overlooked and unnoticed.

Until Nicklas Backstrom goes down with a hand injury. Or Evgeny Kuznetsov is injured on a hit from Brayden McNabb.

Eller can play anywhere in the lineup. He’s as capable of playing top-line minutes as he is doing the third and fourth-line grunt work. He can play wing if such a need is necessary. The quintessential swiss army knife. When top players go down, which is not uncommon in the relentless, unforgiving two-month path to the Cup, a player like that proves invaluable.

Never was that more on display than in Wednesday’s Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final, a 3-2 Capitals win that evened the series 1-1.

Kuznetsov was lost for the game after being injured on a hit from McNabb during the first period. That led to Backstrom being bumped up to Kuznetsov’s spot on the top line between Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson while Eller came up to the line Backstrom centered between Jakub Vrana and T.J. Oshie, a trio that was coming off a strong effort in Game 1 despite the loss for Washington. Eller went on to score a goal and while getting a pair of primary assists, both of which were textbook passes to Ovechkin and Brooks Orpik, respectively.

The type of puck movement that will be shown to kids at hockey camps this summer.

Eller could’ve had a point or two more, as well. It didn’t matter who he was playing with, whether it was his third-line flanks Andre Burakovsky and Brett Connolly, second-line partners Oshie and Vrana, or Ovechkin and Backstrom on the powerplay, whenever Eller was on the ice, he was making things happen. The tape on his stick was in lockstep with the puck. It was just one of those nights.

And it’s been one of those postseasons for Eller, who has 17 points (6-11) in 21 games in these playoffs. He filled in admirably when Backstrom went down during the Second Round and missed four games. He took over the game on Wednesday when Kuznetsov went down.

It’s the type of player Eller is, going back to when he was in Montreal. A guy who can play anywhere, and with anyone. And he’s been every bit of that and more this postseason for Washington.

Play of the night

Nothing in sports makes fans jump out of their seats, makes social media blow up quite like a paddle save during the third period of a playoff game.

What a save by Holtby. Save of the playoffs. A once-every-five-years type of save.

And what a night for Holtby, who finished with 37 saves on 39 shots, bouncing back from a rough Game 1. He outplayed Marc-Andre Fleury after Fleury got the upper-hand on Monday with a big third period. Like they say, the game should be called goalie.

Other thoughts

*The Capitals won the first Stanley Cup Final game in their franchise history on Wednesday night.

*This guarantees the Caps won’t be swept like they were in 1998 by the Red Wings. That 1998 Cup Final was the last time there was a sweep in the Stanley Cup.

*Lots of tempers boiling over with quite a few scrums, including one after the final horn sounded to end the game. It was something you could sense coming, with a lot of physical, even chippy play through these first two games.

*Shea Theodore has had two really strong outings to begins the series. It was nice to see him rewarded with a goal in the third period. Here’s a good look at how the 22-year-old is establishing himself as a full-time NHLer after a couple years of shuttling back and forth between the NHL and AHL.

*Through two games the game-winning goals have gone to Tomas Nosek and Brooks Orpik. I gave you guys the heads up that would probably happen but nobody would listen.

*For Orpik: 1st goal in 221 games, regular season and playoffs, dating back to 2016. First goal in 56 playoff games stretching back to 2014.

*The last time Brooks Orpik scored a goal, Las Vegas had not yet been awarded a franchise.

*James Neal opened the scoring on a great shot that stung the top corner to give the Golden Knights a 1-0 lead 7:58 in. This was the shot of the night.

*Hard hat: Matt Niskanen – Didn’t show up on the scoresheet but put up plenty of crooked numbers in other categories, with three shots, four hits, and blocking a shot. He played a game-high 27:13, including 5:25 of shorthanded time.

*Speaking of which, big night of penalty killing for the Capitals, who held the Golden Knights to one powerplay goal on five opportunities. The effort was highlighted by killing off a 1:09-long 5-on-3 during the third period.

*One last thought: A sneak preview at Game 3 on Saturday night – Vegas is 3-0 following losses in these playoffs, with Marc-Andre Fleury allowing seven goals on 103 shots. Meanwhile the Capitals are 4-5 at home this postseason.

Stanley Cup Final: The Storylines

We all predicted this back in October, right?

A Capitals team that had to make up for the losses of Marcus Johansson, Justin Williams, Daniel Winnik, Kevin Shattenkirk, Karl Alzner, and Nate Schmidt (to Vegas no less) and while the top of its roster was back and they would make the playoffs, it looked like there would be a rebuild there to some extent.

Meanwhile Vegas was just building. Yes, there were pieces. Marc-Andre Fleury was as good a starting block as you can find in net. James Neal was an established NHL veteran. Reilly Smith and Erik Haula had proven in recent years they could be impact players on competitive teams. Jonathan Marchessault was coming off a 30-goal season. Alex Tuch, Nate Schmidt, and Shea Theodore were talented youngsters with bright NHL futures.

Needless to say we didn’t see this back when the season started. Neither team was given much of a chance when the playoffs started back in April.

As I said in my playoff preview when building the case for the Golden Knights to get past the Kings, “We know nothing.”

It’s a theme that I’m sure won’t go away as these crazy, wild, unpredictable playoffs concludes with what should be fun Stanley Cup Final. Here’s some of the big storylines going in.

  1. New Blood – You’ll never see me complain about having to watch Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Patrick Kane, Anze Kopitar, or Drew Doughty in the Stanley Cup Final. With that said, a reprieve from the Penguins, Blackhawks, and Kings and getting new teams in the mix is refreshing. Neither team has won a Stanley Cup, the sixth time two teams that haven’t won one faced each other in the Cup Final, and first since 2007 when the Ducks played the Senators. Among that new blood is Alex Ovechkin, a player who – in case you hadn’t heard – has done a thing or two in this league.
  2. New Blood, like that team that didn’t exist until this year – Has it sunk in for anyone that this team made the Stanley Cup Final? I think this team was underestimated because simply nobody believed this could happen, but the Golden Knights are a legitimately good team that gelled from day one and has the luxury of playing in front of a great goaltender. But again, a roster that at this time last year hadn’t been assembled, a team that this time last year was still assembling the pieces to get the franchise off the ground. It’s the greatest sports story in years and best in hockey since the 1980 Miracle on Ice.
  3. Alex Ovechkin tries to get his Cup – So if you haven’t in fact heard about what Ovechkin has done since entering the NHL in 2005, here’s a quick rundown. 1,122 points, 607 goals, the greatest goal scorer of this generation and could be the greatest goal scorer ever. The one thing he hasn’t done is reached the Stanley Cup Final. After years of playoff disappointments in Washington that always seemed to fall upon the shoulders of Ovechkin, the Caps managed to get past the Second Round this season. The Capitals winning means not only erasing years and years of almost-getting-there, but the Great Eight cementing his legacy as one of the game’s all-time greats.
  4. One last demon to exorcise for the Capitals – It’s been a postseason of exorcising demons for the Caps, the most notable of which was finally getting past the Penguins (the Capitals were previously 0-for-3 during the Crosby/Ovechkin era). With that victory came the daily double of getting past the Second Round, something Washington hadn’t done since 1998, despite reaching that round six times over that span. They came back from series deficits as opposed to blowing series leads. The Caps took a page out of the George Costanza playbook and just did the exact opposite of everything they’d done years prior. They went for the chicken salad on rye instead of the tuna on toast and ended up in the Cup Final.
  5. Marc-Andre Fleury – Fleury is in the Stanley Cup Final for the fifth time in his career, but comes in having not played in a Stanley Cup Final game since 2009, as he backed up Matt Murray the past two Finals with the Penguins. This postseason, in which Fleury has put up near-historic numbers, has been the highlight of what has been a redemption tour for the 33-year-old after he was cast off by the Penguins in favor of Murray and taken by Vegas in the Expansion Draft. A Vegas win would virtually guarantee that Fleury wins the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
  6. Home-ice advantage vs Road Warriors – The road team has won 42 of the 79 games so far in these Stanley Cup Playoffs, and the Capitals are the face of that trend with a 8-2 road record this postseason. Meanwhile, the Golden Knights are the one team that has bucked the trend, with a 6-1 record on home ice.
  7. George McPhee – The Golden Knights GM as the architect of what has been the most successful inaugural season in the history of sports. He was also the architect of this Capitals team. Serving as the general manager in Washington from 1997-2014, it was McPhee who drafted Alex Ovechkin 1st overall in 2004, Nicklas Backstrom 4th overall in 2006, John Carlson 27th overall in 2008, Evgeny Kuznetsov 26th overall in 2010, and Tom Wilson 16th overall in 2012. Braden Holtby was taken in the 4th round of the 2008 draft. Other players drafted under McPhee’s watch includes Andre Burakovsky, Dmitry Orlov, and Chandler Stephenson. Jay Beagle was signed as an undrafted free agent in March 2008. McPhee also drafted current Golden Knight Cody Eakin in the 3rd round in 2009 and signed Vegas blueline ace Nate Schmidt as an undrafted free agent in April 2013.
  8. Nate Schmidt – The former Capital is the Golden Knights top defensemen has been one of the best blueliners in these playoffs. He plays in all situations and faces the best opposing teams have to offer. It will be his job to shut down the top line of Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Tom Wilson.

Stanley Cup Final: Why the Capitals win

Is this the Caps year?

Well, four wins shy of the Stanley Cup is the closest they’ve ever come. This is the second time the franchise has been to the Cup Final, the first time coming in 1998 when they were swept by the Red Wings. But anyone who has followed knows what the Capitals are about – always there but never getting over the hump. Well, after years of not being able to get past the Penguins or the Rangers, Washington finally broke through.

So can they do it?

The first thing that pops off the page when you look at Vegas is Marc-Andre Fleury, who is riding a heater in net right now. Whether the Capitals can beat him remains to be seen, but they have what it takes to match him in Braden Holtby. Holtby has gone 12-5 in his 17 starts this postseason, and recorded back-to-back shutouts in Games 6 and 7 of the Eastern Conference Final to get the Capitals past the Lightning.

Alex Ovechkin looks like someone that is refusing to be denied in these playoffs. He was the best player on the ice in the final two games of the East Final, elevating his game to an even higher level. The 32-year-old, who is in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in a career that has spanned 13 seasons with 1,003 regular season games, 1,122 points and 607 goals in addition to another 116 games, 112 points, and 58 goals in the postseason. Of the all-time great players across what has been a century of NHL play, a handful of those names are missing from the Stanley Cup. Ovechkin is one of those names, and he’s doing everything in his power to make sure his name gets on it in the coming weeks.

Then you look to the right of Ovechkin. Evgeny Kuznetsov has been spectacular in his own right. He’s got a playoff-high 24 points (11-13) in 19 games. Kuznetsov etched himself into Capitals lore when he scored the game-winner in overtime of Game 6 in the Second Round to officially push the Caps past the Penguins.

This team is deep and physical, especially on the back end, and unlike previous years came into the playoffs under the radar and playing their best hockey of the season.

Washington has had guys step up in big spots and have had bounces go in their favor – two things that didn’t seem to happen in years past.

In sports, not just in hockey, you can sometimes sense when a team is on a run that is going to end with a title. When it’s ‘their year’, for lack of a better term.

It’s a sense I get with this Capitals team.

Player that puts the Capitals over the top: Tom Wilson – Wilson gets a bad wrap because of his style of play and has a history of suspensions and suspendible plays. Does Tom Wilson play a predatory game? Yes. Is Tom Wilson a good hockey player capable of making impactful plays and playing big minutes? Yes. As hard as it is for some people to grasp, both of those things can be true. Playing on the right side of the Caps first line with Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov, Wilson had 12 points in 16 games. His absence was felt on that top line when he was suspended for three games during the Second Round against the Penguins.

The Capitals actually did it

The Capitals actually did it. Alex Ovechkin finally did it.

For the first time since 1998, the Washington Capitals are going to the Stanley Cup Final, which came via a 4-0 win over the Lightning in Wednesday’s Game 7.

And the Caps did it following the same formula they’ve followed throughout the playoffs. Get out to a quick start – the Capitals came out flying, with Ovechkin scoring 1:02 into the game, stay out of the box while depending upon Braden Holtby for the big saves and the hockey gods for bounces.

The latter two came up big on Wednesday. Holtby made 29 saves and stopped 53 shots without allowing a goal in the final two games of the series as the Caps rallied from 3-2 down to win the series. Puck luck? I mean, it looked at times like a force field was surrounding the Capitals crease. How else can you explain how this Yanni Gourde chance didn’t go in?

The Capitals got the bounces in this game. They got the bounces in this series. They’ve had a majority of the bounces in these playoffs fall in their favor.

Who else had Andre Burakovsky scoring twice on Wednesday night? Exactly.

The crazy thing is Tampa Bay had the upper hand for much of the game. The Lightning finished with the shot advantage for the first time all series in Game 7, outshooting the Capitals 29-23. But they had nothing to show for what was a solid 30 minutes of carrying the play. The first Burakovsky goal, at 8:59 of the second period, seemed to be the final nail in the coffin for the Bolts.

Meanwhile, the Ovechkin goal just over a minute into the game gave the Capitals the fruits of their labor for a quick start to the game.

The win gives us a Capitals-Golden Knights Stanley Cup Final, just like we all predicted at the start of the season. No matter which team wins, it’s a great story.

A Capitals win adds the Alex Ovechkin to the Stanley Cup (a name that has been missing from that trophy for quite some time) while bringing Washington its first championship since the 1991 Redskins. Meanwhile a Vegas win means a city new to pro sports, new to hockey, getting its first championship in its first year. Pretty cool.

Then there’s Golden Knights general manager George McPhee facing the team he was fired by in 2014. Vegas defenseman Nate Schmidt faces the team that left him exposed in last year’s expansion draft. And it will be another Marc-Andre Fleury/Alex Ovechkin showdown, this time for the Stanley Cup.

Should be a fun couple of weeks.

Why the Capitals will win Game 7

The Washington Capitals have made 15 appearances in a Game 7 in the history of their franchise. They’ve emerged victorious just four times.

Look for them to up that total to five on Wednesday night when they take on the Lightning.

The Capitals are 7-2 on the road in these playoffs. They have the best player in this series on their side in Alex Ovechkin while Evgeny Kuznetsov has been nothing short of amazing himself. Braden Holtby, who struggled during the 3-game losing streak that put the Caps backs against the wall going into Game 6, regained his form in a 24-save shutout on Monday night.

Washington has dictated the pace of play all throughout the series. While the Capitals haven’t played a perfect series by any stretch, the least you can say is they’ve been in control for the most part. The Caps have outshot the Lightning in all six games. Washington has put at least 30 shots on net in every game while holding Tampa Bay to 23 or fewer in five of six. The only time the Bolts managed to get more pucks on Holtby was when they had 35 shots in Game 2, a 6-2 Capitals win.

Of the 15 goals the Lightning have scored in this series, six have come via the powerplay. That’s a dangerous way to live. If penalty killing wins championships, teams that rely on the man advantage lose them. Water generally finds its level and calls sometimes stop coming whether that be from opponents smartening up or officials letting more stuff go as the series goes on.

Are the Lightning evidence of that? They could be. Tampa Bay has failed to convert on its last four powerplay opportunities, its last man-advantage tally coming from the stick of Steven Stamkos in the first period of Game 4.

The Capitals killed off both penalties called against them in Game 6. They have put themselves down a man just three times in the last two games after doing so 14 times through the first 4 games. That continued discipline will be the key in Game 7.

Having Ovechkin on their side in Game 7 will be key for the Caps as well. Ovechkin has been the best player in this series and has had as good a postseason as anyone in this year’s tournament. With a chance to reach his first Stanley Cup Final on the line, he’ll be playing like his hair is on fire.

Things just seem different for the Capitals this postseason. I know ‘Caps Year’ has become a cliche, but let’s be honest here, it kind of seems that way. Things that haven’t gone right for them in past postseasons goes have in these playoffs. Like the Nikita Kucherov breakaway goal that was washed out by a too many men on the ice penalty in Game 1, which would’ve sent things to first intermission with the Lightning having just tied the game with less than 10 seconds to play in the period. Instead, the Bolts go down a man and Ovechkin scores off the ensuing faceoff to put the Capitals up 2-0 going to the locker room.

Then there’s finally getting past Sidney Crosby and the Penguins. The Capitals finally beating the Pens was like the Bruins finally getting past the Canadiens in 1988, the Red Sox finally getting past the Yankees in 2004.

Players have stepped up in big spots. After backup goaltender Philipp Grubauer got the starting nod to start the playoffs, Braden Holtby got his crease back in Game 2 of the First Round and never looked back, helping the Capitals climb out of a 2-0 deficit against the Blue Jackets and win four straight to advance. Or the way Lars Eller slid in perfectly as the second line center after Nicklas Backstrom went down.

Remember when Tom Wilson got suspended three games and Barry Trotz was trying to find a way to fill that void on the right side of the top line, with the Caps down 3-2 to the Penguins going into the third period of Game 5 of the Second Round? Hey, let’s give Jakub Vrana a shot. All Vrana does is assist on the tying goal before scoring the winning goal as the Caps win 6-3 to go up 3-2 in the series. The Capitals finished off the two-time defending champs and their arch-nemesis the next time out.

The Capitals have got it done when they’ve needed to this postseason. And they’ve done it away from Washington, representing a trend that has stretched across the league this postseason. In 78 games played in these playoffs, 41 have been won by the visitors.

The road success will continue in this one. We’ll see you in Vegas on Monday.