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Stanley Cup Champions

Ovechkin leads Capitals to 'unbelievable' Stanley Cup

Awarded Conn Smythe; Washington wins first championship in 43-season history

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

LAS VEGAS -- Standing on the ice at T-Mobile Arena after finally getting to skate around with the Stanley Cup, Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin's eyes filled with tears while he listed the people he was happy for: his teammates, his wife Nastya, who is pregnant with their first child; his parents and the rest of his family; owner Ted Leonsis; and the fans back in Washington.

"We waited so long," Ovechkin said. "We waited 13 years to get the Cup. It's something special. It's unbelievable."

Ovechkin had been reminded many times over those 13 NHL seasons that he hadn't brought a championship to Washington. So his overflowing emotions were understandable in the aftermath of the Capitals 4-3 victory against the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final on Thursday.

 

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

 

Ovechkin, who also won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, led the NHL with a Capitals-record 15 goals, including a power-play goal that gave Washington a 2-1 lead at 10:14 of the second period.

He is the second Russian player to win the Conn Smythe Trophy, joining Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009, and the first Russian captain to lift the Stanley Cup.

"It's not about me," Ovechkin said. "Just the whole team deserved it. I'm just lucky to get this reward."

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

Ovechkin was correct. The Capitals had many contributors throughout the remarkable trip to the first Stanley Cup in their 43-season history.

Linemate Evgeny Kuznetsov led the League with 32 points (12 goals, 20 assists) in the postseason. Goaltender Braden Holtby lost his starting job to begin the playoffs, but reclaimed it in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference First Round against the Columbus Blue Jackets and was a rock in net from then through his 28-save performance Thursday.

Devante Smith-Pelly, who scored seven goals in the regular season, equaled that number in the playoffs and scored at 9:52 of the third period that tied it 3-3. And Lars Eller, who started the run with his double-overtime goal in Game 3 against Columbus that prevented Washington from falling behind 3-0 in that series, scored the Cup-winning goal with 7:37 left in regulation.

"It was a whole one team," Ovechkin said. "Stick with the system and it doesn't matter what happened."

But, fairly or unfairly, the spotlight always has fallen on Ovechkin. He was often blamed for the Capitals' past postseason failures. This was the first season Washington had advanced past the second round since 1998, when it made its only other appearance in the Cup Final (lost 4-0 to Detroit Red Wings).

Video: Watch Ovi's best reactions from the 2018 playoffs

Now that he's finally gotten that monkey off his back, his teammates were thrilled to see him vindicated with a championship.

"He probably took the brunt of the criticism just because he's the captain and the highest-paid guy," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "I think a lot of guys feel for him in that situation. If you watched the reaction of his teammates when he got the Cup, I think speaks volumes about how guys feel about him."

It's been a season filled with big moments for Ovechkin. He became the first Capital to reach 1,000 games on April 1 at the Pittsburgh Penguins.

He became the 20th player to score 600 NHL goals when he scored twice against the Winnipeg Jets on March 12 and the fourth player to reach the milestone in fewer than 1,000 games (990), joining Wayne Gretzky (718), Mario Lemieux (719) and Brett Hull (900).

After scoring 33 goals last season, his lowest total in a full season since he scored 32 in 2010-11, Ovechkin led the NHL this season with 49 goals to win the Rocket Richard Trophy for the seventh time.

Selected by the Capitals with the No. 1 pick in the 2004 NHL Draft, Ovechkin has 1,122 points (607 goals, 515 assists), was named one of the 100 Greatest NHL Players presented by Molson Canadian in 2017, has won the Calder Trophy (NHL rookie of the year), the Hart Trophy (MVP) three times and the Art Ross Trophy (scoring champion) once.

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

He has also been named a First Team All-Star or Second Team All-Star in 10 of the past 12 seasons.

Despite all those achievements, his critics always pointed out that he had never won the Stanley Cup. They can no longer do that.

"He's had all three acts," Leonsis said. "The first act is this young kid comes out of nowhere and has this great success. Then, there's a second act where there's a fall. People love to write about the fall. Then, the third act is this great comeback, and we love a comeback.

"So Alex is right where he belongs. He'll go down in history as one of the greatest players of all time and greatest leaders of all time. And he has his Cup."

In a calmer moment following the on-ice celebration, Ovechkin couldn't help thinking back to a day at Leonsis' house before he had played his first NHL season back in 2005. It was then he accepted the Stanley Cup mission he finally completed Thursday.

"We were swimming in the pool and he told me one day we're going to win it," Ovechkin said. "It was the first year. I didn't even know the team. I knew he wants it so bad and this organization wants it so bad. It's nice … It was a tough time, but we fight through it and we get results."

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