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Stanley Cup Final | Golden Knights vs. Capitals

Stanley Cup Final

Capitals carried by Ovechkin in triumphant run to Stanley Cup

Holtby's resurgence, secondary scoring help Washington to first title

by Brian McNally / NHL.com Correspondent

The Washington Capitals' 4-3 win against the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final at T-Mobile Arena on Thursday gave them their first championship in their 43-season history.

The Capitals became the second NHL team to win the Cup despite trailing in every series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The other was the 1991 Pittsburgh Penguins. 

Washington came back from down 2-0 in the Eastern Conference First Round against the Columbus Blue Jackets, winning four straight games. It lost Game 1 to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round, fell behind 3-2 to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the conference final, and lost the first game of the Cup Final.

 

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

 

It also endured injuries to key players, including center Nicklas Backstrom and forward Andre Burakovsky, as well as a three-game suspension to forward Tom Wilson, but persevered to win the NHL championship.  

Here are 5 reasons the Capitals won the Stanley Cup:

 

1. Ovi's time

Forward Alex Ovechkin set a Washington record with 15 goals in a single postseason. The Capitals captain passed forward John Druce, who scored 14 goals in 1990. Ovechkin had 27 points (15 goals, 12 assists) and won the Conn Smythe Trophy as most valuable player in the playoffs. Many of his goals came at big moments, including two in a Game 6 win that eliminated the Blue Jackets in the first round, the first goal in a Game 7 win against the Lightning in the conference final, and another in the Cup-clinching win in Game 5 against the Golden Knights.  

"We knew this year was going to be our year," Ovechkin said.

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

 

2. Holy Holtby 

After struggling through the worst statistical regular season of his NHL career (2.99 goals-against average, .907 save percentage), goaltender Braden Holtby began the playoffs on the bench behind Philipp Grubauer. Five periods into the first round against Columbus, however, coach Barry Trotz called for Holtby, and he responded with a 16-7 record, 2.16 GAA and .922 save percentage in 22 postseason starts. With Washington trailing the conference final 3-2, he had consecutive shutouts in Games 6 and 7 against Tampa Bay to help Washington advance to the Final. 

"It doesn't come easy. It took years," Holtby said. "Years of heartbreak, years of breaking things down and trying again, breaking things down and trying again. This group never gave up, and we finally did it."

 

3. Secondary stars sparkled

It wasn't all Ovechkin. The Capitals became the sixth NHL team to have five players total 20 points in the playoffs. Center Evgeny Kuznetsov led the way with 32 points (12 goals, 20 assists), setting a Washington record for a single postseason. Backstrom had 23 points (five goals, 18 assists) in 20 games after missing four with an injury to his right hand. Forward T.J. Oshie had 21 points (eight goals, 13 assists), and John Carlson had 20 (five goals, 15 assists) to become the highest-scoring defenseman in Capitals playoff history (55 points).

Center Lars Eller, with 18 points (seven goals, 11 assists), just missed giving Washington a sixth player with 20 points; that feat was accomplished by New York Islanders in 1983 and the Edmonton Oilers in 1985.

 

4. Middle girth

When Backstrom was injured in Game 5 of the second round against the Penguins, it appeared the Capitals were in trouble. But Eller elevated his game when he moved up from his usual spot as third-line center, and Washington moved forward Chandler Stephenson into Eller's spot with Jay Beagle remaining on the fourth line. Eller had seven points (three goals, four assists) in Backstrom's absence until his return in Game 4 of the conference final. He was a big factor from Backstrom's injury through his Cup-winning goal in Game 5.  

"I couldn't write it up any better," Eller said.

Video: #ThirstForTheCup: Caps win their first Stanley Cup

 

5. Attitude adjustment

Few expected the Capitals to contend for the Cup after they lost five key players from consecutive Presidents' Trophy-winning teams, each eliminated by the Penguins in the second round. That nothing-to-lose attitude was embraced by Washington from the start of the season. It won the Metropolitan Division and was unfazed by adversity that arose in the playoffs, including twice facing elimination in the conference final.

"It's a lot different than the last couple years when we won the Presidents' Trophy and were so-called favorites," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "It allowed us to relax and enjoy it a lot more than we did the last couple years. The love this group has for each other is pretty visible."

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