Capitals end DC championship drought with first Stanley Cup win

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It finally happened. The Washington Capitals finally won their first-ever Stanley Cup after conjuring more magic than the Vegas Golden Knights.

After years of heartbreak for Alex Ovechkin, not to mention the franchise as a whole since being founded in 1974, the Capitals finally won it all.

One can imagine some exhales amid the screams for the team’s long-tortured fans, not to mention fans of D.C. sports in general. It’s been a long, long time since a Washington team took home a championship.

There was something symbolic, almost, about the clock briefly breaking during the late moments of the Capitals’ 4-3 win against the Golden Knights in Game 5. For fans of the Golden Knights, it likely felt like Vegas resisting the clock turning midnight on “Cinderella.” For those who’ve followed Ovechkin and the rest of these Caps through these trials and tribulations, breaking the curse meant breaking the clock.

For Vegas, it’s the first real taste of the soul-crushing heartbreak that comes with a playoff elimination that seemed to come out of left field. Thanks to some opportunistic plays and more than a few lucky breaks, the Golden Knights carried a 3-2 lead into the third period. It seemed like the bounces were finally (that word again) breaking their way again.

Instead, the Capitals refused to go home without the Stanley Cup.

To start the last rally, Devante Smith-Pelly scored his seventh goal of the postseason on a diving goal that would make Ovechkin proud. In a way, it was fitting that a player riding a great opportunity and some lucky breaks ultimately dealt such a painful blow to Vegas’ hopes. For the Golden Knights, it was the wrong kind of “finally,” as they finally saw their magic run out.

Less than three minutes later, Lars Eller continued his incredible playoff run by burying a loose puck behind Marc-Andre Fleury for what would be the Capitals’ Stanley Cup-winning goal.

Washington rarely seemed threatened after that, opening the door for an emotional celebration for Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom … and anyone else connected to the Capitals, really.

Ovechkin’s celebration was as glorious as you can imagine, if you could even imagine it. He ended up taking the Conn Smythe, edging out some other excellent Capitals choices, including Evgeny Kuznetsov. “The Great Eight” scored in Game 5, breaking the franchise record for goals in a single postseason with his 15th (sorry, John Druce).

Last summer, the Capitals dealt with “a Stanley Cup hangover without the Stanley Cup.” Considering that they broke this curse in Sin City, it probably won’t be tough to generate a real hangover while celebrating the real thing tonight.

Finally.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.