The Washington Capitals are in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 20 years and the first time in the Alex Ovechkin era.
They advanced with a 4-0 win in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lighting at Amalie Arena on Wednesday, securing a date against the expansion Vegas Golden Knights in the Cup Final. Game 1, at T-Mobile Arena, is Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, CBC, TVAS).
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Before we look ahead, let's look back one final time at the run the Capitals have made to find themselves on the verge of the first Stanley Cup title in their history. It has not been an easy road. The Capitals lost the first two games in the first round to the Columbus Blue Jackets. They lost Game 1 of the second round against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the team that had bounced them from each of the past two postseasons. In the Eastern Conference Final, they lost three straight games to fall behind 3-2. We asked those that covered any of the previous three series for NHL.com to weigh in with their favorite memory in the Capitals' run:
Tracey Myers, staff writer
For me, it was Capitals forward Andre Burakovsky scoring two goals in Game 7 against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday.
Entering Game 6, Burakovsky said he was planning to talk to a sports psychologist this summer to learn how to move on when things aren't going well. Burakovsky said he's taken things too hard since he was a kid, and I'm sure this postseason didn't help him. He missed 10 games with an upper-body injury. Then he was a healthy scratch in Game 5 against the Lightning. He could've let the frustration get the best of him. Instead he scored two goals, the first snuffing out any momentum the Lightning were building through the first 10 minutes of the second period. It's not always easy to say you need help and I was just so impressed with the 23-year-old being so open about this. How can you not be happy for the guy?
Video: WSH@TBL, Gm7: Burakovsky nets second of period
Mike Zeisberger, staff writer
Pressure? What pressure?
Heading into Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final, coach Barry Trotz was supposed to be fighting for his job while his Washington Capitals were allegedly fighting history.
So how did they handle carrying the weight of the Hockey World on their collective shoulders?
By making Trotz skate a hot lap at the end of the morning skate. Watching Trotz, 55, chugging around Amalie Arena buoyed by the cheers of Alex Ovechkin and his teammates was one of the coolest, most humorous playoff moments I've seen in more than two decades of covering hockey.
More importantly, it showed how loose and confident the Caps were, characteristics that had been so lacking during past postseason failures. The "hot lap" -- a full-speed lap around the rink -- has become part of the Capitals morning skate routine on the road in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. After they lost 3-2 in Game 5 at Tampa Bay, forward Alex Ovechkin nominated Trotz to do the lap Wednesday.
"They called my number. At this time of year, you're all in. I was ready. I was surprised," Trotz said.
Hours later, so too were the Tampa Bay Lightning, who were beaten 4-0 by a Capitals team that believed in themselves and their coach.
A classic moment.
Video: WSH@TBL, Gm7: Trotz loosens up Capitals before Game 7
Dan Rosen, senior writer
It was a moment, an embrace, that was 11 years in the making.
There they were on the ice celebrating after Game 7 on Wednesday, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, the two players in Washington who had been through all the heartache and heartbreak together, all the Game 7 disappointments. They found each other. They wrapped their arms around each other.
If my lip reading skills are on point, it looked like Backstrom, staring at Ovechkin, told his longtime teammate, "One more, one more."
Indeed they have to win one more round to win the big prize, but arguably the two most important players in Capitals history, the powerful Russian who brought the franchise back and the super Swede who never gets enough credit, had their moment together after Game 7.
It was a moment 11 years in the making, since Backstrom joined Ovechkin in D.C., forming one of the best 1-2 combinations in the NHL. If all goes to plan, Ovechkin will pass off the Stanley Cup to Backstrom and the embrace will be even sweeter.
Tom Gulitti, staff writer
There have been plenty of memorable moments during the Capitals' run, from little things such as Trotz's daily reminder to the media to "hydrate" (as if he knew we'd end up in the dry heat of Las Vegas) to the bigger ones mentioned by my colleagues above. To pick a different one, I'll go with Ovechkin's reaction to Evgeny Kuznetsov's series-clinching overtime goal in Game 6 of the second round against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
After passing the puck ahead to Kuznetsov to send him in on a breakaway, Ovechkin said he thought to himself "please score" and watched Kuznetsov slide the puck between Penguins goaltender Matt Murray's pads to send the Capitals to the Eastern Conference Final. After not advancing beyond the second round of the playoffs in his first 12 NHL seasons, including being eliminated by the Penguins three times, Ovechkin threw up his arms and looked to the ceiling as if to say, "Finally!"
Video: WSH@PIT, Gm6: Kuznetsov ends series with OT winner
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