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Ovechkin, Eller among top Capitals performers in Game 5 of Cup Final

Honor roll, stock watch from Washington win against Golden Knights

by Shawn P. Roarke @sroarke_nhl / NHL.com Director of Editorial

Who played well in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final? Sometimes it's easy to tell, sometimes it's not. NHL.com graded the players in the 4-3 win by the Washington Capitals against the Vegas Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena on Thursday that gave the Capitals their first Stanley Cup championship. Here are the players and trends that stood out the most:

 

[RELATED: Complete Golden Knights vs. Capitals series coverage | Capitals Championship Gear]

 

Honor roll

Alex Ovechkin (Capitals) -- The Washington captain was ready to end his Stanley Cup drought and played like it. He had jump all game, scored a huge power-play goal 34 seconds after Vegas tied the game 1-1, and played a power-forward game throughout the night. His goal was his 15th of the postseason, passing John Druce (1990) for the Washington record. Ovechkin had five shots, two hits and two takeaways, and was named the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as most valuable player of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Video: WSH@VGK, Gm5: Ovechkin on winning the Stanley Cup

David Perron (Golden Knights) -- Scratched in Game 4, Perron got the message and played his most engaged game of the Cup Final. He was in the Washington crease when he scored the goal that tied the game 2-2. He was knocked down after a fierce turf battle with defenseman Christian Djoos and was credited with the goal after it was deflected by Tomas Tatar. Perron had four shots on goals and three hits.

Nate Schmidt (Golden Knights) -- Vegas changed its defense pairs, and Schmidt delivered the offense that coach Gerard Gallant wanted. Schmidt scored its first goal when his point shot hit Matt Niskanen in the slot and changed direction on goalie Braden Holtby. 

Devante Smith-Pelley (Capitals) -- The bottom-six forward finished the postseason as hot as any player. He scored Thursday for the third straight game. It was as pretty as it was important, tying the game 3-3 when he was able to kick a loose puck onto his stick and while falling shoot it before goalie Marc-Andre Fleury could react properly.

Lars Eller (Capitals) -- The forward scored the Cup-winning goal, finding a puck that squeezed its way through Fleury's pads and putting it in the net for his second goal of the Final. He also scored in Game 2.

Video: WSH@VGK, Gm5: Smith-Pelly, Eller score clutch goals

 

Stock watch

Capitals fans (up) -- Yes, this was the night that Washington would make history with its first Stanley Cup title, but it wasn't a guarantee. No matter; Capitals fans hit the secondary ticket market and brought the Sea of Red into the desert. Many arrived late Wednesday or early Thursday, basking in the weather and then packing the lower bowl of T-Mobile Arena during warmups. They cheered loudly throughout the game and remained well after it was over to serenade their heroes as they celebrated on the ice.

Tweet from @Capitals: MAYHEM!!! #ALLCAPS #StanleyCup pic.twitter.com/jjpzFZqXgZ

Marc-Andre Fleury (down) -- So good for three rounds, the Vegas goalie could not make the big save when it was needed in this series. The winning goal was a perfect example. He was in position to stop it, but the puck squeezed through his pads and Eller was able to score.

P.K. Subban (up) -- Imported as an analyst by NBC Sports for Game 5, the Nashville Predators defenseman was good at breaking down the game and having fun off set. He bantered with fans close to the NBC location, starting a "Go Preds Go!" chant at one point. He also had his picture taken with showgirls before the game started. Subban certainly knows how to embrace the big moments.

Brayden McNabb (down) -- The Vegas defenseman took a penalty 11 seconds after the Golden Knights tied the game, and then 23 seconds after that, Ovechkin, who drew the penalty on McNabb, scored to give Washington a 2-1 lead. McNabb also was on the ice for the game-opening goal, when Jakub Vrana got behind the last line of defense.

Braden Holtby (up) -- The Washington goalie won six of the final seven games. Game 5 was not his best, but he was one goal better than his opponent. Not bad for a player who started the playoffs as the backup to Philipp Grubauer for the first two games of the Eastern Conference First Round.

Video: WSH@VGK, Gm5: Holtby on Cup win, Ovi's leadership

Panic! at the Disco (up) -- The hometown band took the pregame concert to a new level Thursday, playing on a temporary stage in the middle of the Fountains at Bellagio, performing their hits, including "High Hopes," while the fountains geysered behind them and fans watched from the sidewalk.

Reilly Smith (up) -- The goal by the Vegas forward that gave it a 3-2 lead was a thing of beauty. He took a pass from Alex Tuch, kicked it off each of his skates onto his stick, and shot it into an unguarded net before Holtby could react. Smith also had an assist on Schmidt's goal that made it 1-1.

 

What we learned

These are not the old Capitals

Washington had every reason to fold in Game 5. It allowed a controversial goal to Perron to tie the game 2-2, fell behind when Smith scored a power-play goal with 29 seconds left in the second period, and had to deal with hard-charging Vegas early in the third. But these Capitals never wavered and held firm finding the tying and winning goals in the third period to close the series on their first try.

Video: WSH@VGK, Gm5: Capitals presented with Stanley Cup

 

Power surge in Washington

The Capitals scored another power-play goal Thursday, finishing 1-for-4 with Ovechkin giving them a 2-1 lead. They scored at 29.3 percent (22-for-75) this postseason. Among teams with at least 60 playoff opportunities, only the 1981 New York Islanders (37.8 percent, 31-for-82), 1982 Islanders (29.9 percent, 23-for-77) and 1994 Toronto Maple Leafs (29.7 percent, 22-for-74) have had better rates since that stat was officially tracked beginning in the 1977-78 season.

Video: WSH@VGK, Gm5: Ovi draws penalty, sets record with PPG

 

Vegas never gives up

The Golden Knights never gave up during the season, turning a collection of misfits -- their term -- into one of the two best teams in hockey. So why would they give up in the Stanley Cup Final, even if they were trailing the best-of-7 series 3-1? They wouldn't and they didn't. Twice they fell behind by a goal and the end loomed. Twice they answered. Then they took the lead. In the end, they couldn't hold it and the season did end, but not without a fight.

 

Inability to clear zone hurt Golden Knights

Vegas gave up two goals in the third period to turn a one-goal lead into a 4-3 loss. Each goal could be traced to an inability to clear the zone. On the tying goal by Smith-Pelly, the clearing attempt was not strong enough and defenseman Brooks Orpik kept it in at the line, albeit barely. Seconds later it was in the net. On the winning goal by Eller, Luca Sbisa misplayed the puck behind the net and the turnover ended up as a pass to Brett Connolly in the slot. Eller then got inside position to score off a loose puck.

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