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.

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Don’t let the Golden Knights win Game 5

Don’t let the Golden Knights win Game 5. That’s all I’m going to say.

And the theme of these playoffs have been if you think one thing, the opposite will probably happen. Especially surrounding these two teams.

The Capitals lead the Stanley Cup Final 3-1 following a 6-2 win in Game 4. Washington needs one win to seal its first Stanley Cup.

The Capitals have reached this point with three straight wins, beating and beating up the Golden Knights. Vegas hasn’t had any answers in the past three games since taking the series opener with a 6-4 victory.

I’m not taking the bait on this one. Not saying here’s the clock striking midnight on Vegas. Not doing my finest Gary Bettman impression and telling Alex Ovechkin to come get the Cup. I know all too well how these things turn out.

Again – whatever indication you’re getting, think the opposite.

The Golden Knights didn’t have the superstars the Kings had in the First Round. The likes of Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty would be too much. Vegas sweeps. The Sharks looked like they had Vegas on the ropes at points early in the Second Round. We all know what happened there. The Golden Knights were solved after one game with Winnipeg. All Vegas did was go on to win four straight games.

Meanwhile the Capitals were down 2-0 to the Blue Jackets going back to Columbus. They come back and win four in a row but who cares because there’s no way they’re going to beat the Penguins. They beat the Penguins, go up 2-0 on the Lightning then lose three straight and here we go again with this team. Same stuff, different year. Until it wasn’t.

And call me crazy, but I don’t think Vegas played all that terrible. The Golden Knights got out to a good start, had some good opportunities they couldn’t convert on (highlighted by James Neal’s whiff that will live in infamy) and all of a sudden they’re going to the locker room trailing 3-0. They came out strong, the Capitals got some breaks, the Golden Knights didn’t, and the game got away from them.

When you lose 6-2 there’s not many positives the team on the losing side can take from it. But there’s silver linings the Golden Knights can take from the loss. There was the good start, in which Gerard Gallant said after the game he felt the first period was the best 20 minutes Vegas had played this series. In the third period, the snakebit Golden Knights broke through with a pair of goals, with James Neal and Reilly Smith finding the net.

If the Golden Knights string together three straight wins – something they did eight times during the regular season and twice more during the playoffs – don’t be surprised if they cite moments from this Game 4 as ones that fueled the comeback and gave them the momentum they’d need to pull it off.

And most of all, don’t be surprised if they actually pull it off.

Goal of the Game

This goal is the microcosm of this Capitals run. When they need a play, they get it. The Golden Knights had scored two straight goals to cut the lead to 4-2. While they still had half the mountain to climb with less than seven minutes left, they were coming, and seven minutes might as well be seven months this time of year. And Michal Kempny delivered.

And what a game for Kempny. A guy who has been one of the Caps unsung heroes skating alongside John Carlson on the back end.

Other thoughts

*For further reading on Kempny, here’s a good piece on the defenseman, who the Capitals acquired from the Blackhawks in February.

*The only team to rally from a 3-1 deficit in the Stanley Cup Final: 1942 Maple Leafs, who rallied from a 3-0 deficit to beat the Red Wings.

*On the two Vegas goal scorers, James Neal and Reilly Smith: Were there two guys that needed goals more than those two given the way the past couple games have gone for them?

*Evgeny Kuznetsov is up to 31 points after finishing with four assists on Monday night. Only two other players have reached that point since 1997 – Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, who put up 36 and 31, respectively, in 2009.

*Of the 27 different 31-point postseasons that have happened in NHL history, 24 occurred between 1981-96. That was quite a time to be an offensive player.

*With his second period goal, John Carlson tied Calle Johansson for the Capitals franchise record for playoff points by a defenseman, with 54.

*Another beauty of a goal for Devante Smith-Pelly.

*Marc-Andre Fleury has a .845 save percentage in this series.

*Hard hat: Colin Miller – I know the Golden Knights didn’t win, but Miller didn’t back down. Competed right to the end.

*T.J. Oshie and Nicklas Backstrom eclipsed the 20-point mark with three-point games on Monday, the fourth time in the last eight years a team has had four 20-point scorers in a postseason. Two of those teams, the 2014 Kings and 2017 Penguins, went on to win the Cup.

*John Carlson is sitting on 19 points. No team has had five 20-point scorers in a postseason since the Minnesota North Stars in 1991.

*One last thought: Remember when the Capitals couldn’t win at home?

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.

Friday Blog Dump: A Nashville Cup Final was a best case scenario for the game, then Vegas went on a run

New thing: Friday blog dump. Basically a weekly blog touching upon a bunch of different stuff that drops every Friday. Here’s the debut.

The saying is lightning doesn’t strike twice. Don’t tell that to the NHL.

The past two installments of the Stanley Cup Playoffs have ceded itself to the league stumbling into a pot of gold, last season by way of the Nashville Predators reaching the Stanley Cup Final then this year with the Vegas Golden Knights reaching.

The game of hockey and the most iconic trophy in sports sells itself. But the additional sideshow and atmosphere these two markets have provided have brought the Stanley Cup to another level of excitement.

In Nashville, it was the party-like scene, the college football-like environment. The catfish being thrown on the ice. The country music presence the city brought to the final. The culture of the city injected itself into the Stanley Cup Final as opposed to the Stanley Cup Final injecting itself into the culture of the city.

It’s been taken to another level this year in Las Vegas.  The pregame shows have been wild going all the way back to the start of the playoffs. From the knights skating around in full armor, to the drumline, to the added features from game to game, with an Imagine Dragons concert one night to Michael Buffer another.

Another layer of curiosity comes with it. You get stories of how it all comes together. You get stories of the culture of these cities and how it ties in. You hear from locals and what the team means to them and the community.

Does every city need to do a production like this? Not necessarily. I thought Jeff Marek made a good point on the 31 Thoughts Podcast that a place like Montreal should sell their history and tradition, and would (and has) put on a good show from that standpoint. The same can be said in places like Boston, Toronto, Detroit, Chicago, and New York. But the new cities that have come into the mix have added a new element and formed their own identity through it.

Is it for everybody? No, which is fine. But I feel those that have objected to these ceremonies are in a stark minority. Most have no problem, many can’t get enough of it.

Bottom line is this has people tuning in that wouldn’t have before. It has people talking about hockey and the NHL that usually wouldn’t be. And that’s a big win for the game.

Callahan out 5 months

The Lightning announced on Thursday that Ryan Callahan is expected to miss five months after undergoing shoulder surgery, which puts him out for about the first month of next season.

Another injury for a guy that has battled quite a few since arriving in Tampa from the Rangers via the captain-for-captain deal that sent Martin St. Louis to New York in 2014. He had a really strong postseason for the Lightning, with that fourth line of Callahan, Cedric Paquette, and Chris Kunitz playing a big role in the Bolts getting within one win of the Stanley Cup Final.

Callahan, 33, has two seasons remaining on his deal. Hopefully the Lightning can string together a Cup run between now and then. That’s a guy who you want to see win one. And he’d be one of the first – if not the first – to receive the Stanley Cup from Steven Stamkos.

NCAA coaches going pro

We’ve seen two NCAA head coaches get NHL jobs in the past month, with Denver head coach Jim Montgomery going to the Stars and BU head coach David Quinn going to the Rangers. There was a lower-profile hiring this week when the Wheeling Nailers – the ECHL affiliate of the Penguins – announced the hiring of former Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy.

Dennehy was relieved of his duties at Merrimack in a surprise move following the 2017-18 season. He took over the program in 2005 and brought it to heights few felt it could reach, with the program fielding teams that were among the best in the nation earlier this decade. They fell off a little bit in recent years, but they’ve still managed to be competitive.

It will be interesting to see what he does in the pros.

Things you should read

*Well done piece by SI.com’s Charlotte Wilder on the fast-growing Las Vegas community and giving a face to its people.

*Golden Knights assistant GM Kelly McCrimmon looks to join his late brother, Brad, on the Stanley Cup.

*A look at what the Seattle expansion club would look like if it were drafted today.

*The current state of the relationship between Capitals GM Brian MacLellan and Golden Knights GM George McPhee.

*The Golden Knights form a strong bond with the first responders of the October 1 mass shooting in Las Vegas.

Taking you out of the blog and into the weekend: Fights between Tom Wilson and Ryan Reaves

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.

Be sure to send in your ‘Tom Wilson scores game-winning goal in Game 2’ prop bets

The league hasn’t said anything official yet, but virtually all the reports indicate that Tom Wilson will not have a hearing for his hit on Jonathan Marchessault on Monday night.

I think it’s the right call. I’ll say what I wrote earlier. It was worthy of a penalty, it was needless, even predatory, but it wasn’t worthy of a suspension. Obviously his history doesn’t help. Wilson has become public enemy No. 1 in many circles during these playoffs following a series of incidents, which was highlighted by a three-game suspension in the Second Round for a hit on Penguins forward Zach Aston-Reese.

Many feel a suspension, or at very least a hearing, was warranted for Wilson. But the reaction to the hit could’ve been based upon the way you saw it.

For instance, if you it this way, it looks really, really bad. Even indefensible.

But here’s the blowup of how it happened in real time.

Marchessault makes the pass and gets caught standing straight up in the middle of the ice when he’s blown up by Wilson. Again, not saying it was legal. Not saying I even liked it. Late hit? For sure. Penalty? Absolutely.

But on the list of plays I’ve seen over the years, this one ranks pretty low on the category of ‘dirty and dangerous.’

Can’t wait to see how the world reacts should Wilson do anything of consequence in the remaining games of this series. I’m sure it will be very measured and rational.

Tomas Nosek might be the greatest Game 1 player ever

Apparently Tomas Nosek likes doing this type of stuff.

So at this point you’ve probably heard Nosek scored twice in the third period of the Golden Knights 6-4 win over the Capitals in the Stanley Cup Final opener on Monday night, scoring the go-ahead goal and laying the final exclamation point with an empty-netter in the final seconds.

What you may not know is he’s done this before. Well, kind of.

This time last year, Nosek was playing in the AHL for the Grand Rapids Griffins, the affiliate of the Red Wings, which faced the Syracuse Crunch in the Calder Cup. The Griffins opened the series with a 3-2 win, which came courtesy of a Nosek goal with 13 seconds left. Nosek scored two goals in that game as well, as he opened the scoring 4:56 into the game.

Grand Rapids went on to win that series in six games. And it was Nosek that set the tone at the start, just like this year. Can’t win without guys like that.