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Ovechkin’s Stanley Cup celebration is even better than you imagined

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Alex Ovechkin made his remarkable run to that elusive first Stanley Cup (and Conn Smythe Trophy) that much more entertaining by wearing his heart on his sleeve.

Who could forget his adorable, like-all-of-us reaction to Braden Holtby‘s incredible save on Alex Tuch? Along with silencing his doubters with a truly outstanding playoff run, Ovechkin was as boisterous as the young sniper who captivated the NHL just about from day one of his career. That boyish spirit was there tonight, even with gray hair visible in his mountain man beard.

For lovers and haters alike, it was surreal to see Ovechkin and the Capitals finally break through and win the Stanley Cup via a 4-3 Game 5 win against the equally unlikely Vegas Golden Knights, and that unreal feeling showed in Ovechkin’s giddy displays when the Stanley Cup was secured.

“I don’t know what to say, it’s unbelievable,” Ovechkin told Pierre McGuire not long after winning it all.

(Watch that interview in the video above this post’s headline.)

Naturally, this playoff run was about more than Ovechkin, although you could do worse than to scroll the NHL on NBC Twitter feed to leaf through other fantastic Ovi reactions.

Ovechkin’s embrace with Nicklas Backstrom was one of those often-dreamed-about moments for the franchise. T.J. Oshie was moved to tears discussing what this run means to him and his father. Barry Trotz enjoyed his moment in the sun, and much more.

If you want a quick summation of the key players (from starts to starting to goalie to grinders), the team picture isn’t a bad place to start. There’s something fitting about Devante Smith-Pelly timing his arrival just right to be in the thick of things, too.

Naturally, Capitals fans were ecstatic, particularly those who’ve been through thick and very thin.

This young fan captured their mood in glorious fashion:

It really doesn’t get much better than that. Normally, we’d say “just ask Ovechkin,” but he’s probably a little busy right now.

Actually, maybe Barry Trotz wins it:

Want to watch Game 5 in its entirety? Click here.

MORE:

Capitals break D.C. drought, win Stanley Cup.

Ovechkin takes home Conn Smythe.

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.

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.

Controversial Perron goal counts; Capitals brawl after Vegas gains lead

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Perhaps it’s fitting that the adrenaline is pumping big time and luck seems to be shifting dramatically moment to moment as the 2018 Stanley Cup Final shifted back to Vegas for Game 5.

There’s plenty of time for the script to flip, but the bounces were really going the Golden Knights’ way during the second period. (All five of the goals happened during a busy middle frame.)

The Golden Knights enter the third period of Game 5 with a 3-2 lead thanks to a power-play goal, but there’s room to debate if the 2-2 goal should have counted.

[CLICK HERE TO WATCH GAME 5 LIVE]

The tally survived a review, even though the Washington Capitals unsuccessfully challenged David Perron‘s tying goal for goalie interference. Ultimately, the call on the ice stood, so apparently Christian Djoos contact was enough to get Perron off the hook for impeding Braden Holtby.

Here’s the official verdict from the NHL:

After reviewing all available replays and consulting with the Referee, the Situation Room confirmed that the actions of Washington’s Christian Djoos caused Perron to contact Holtby before the puck crossed the goal line. The decision was made in accordance with Note 2 of Rule 78.7 (ii) which states, in part, that the goal should be allowed because “the attacking Player was pushed, shoved or fouled by a defending Player causing the attacking Player to come into contact with the goalkeeper.”

Therefore, the original call stands – good goal Vegas Golden Knights.

Since the Coach’s Challenge did not result in the original call being overturned, the Washington Capitals forfeit their time-out.

Watch the replays in the video above this post’s headline and decide for yourself: should the 2-2 goal count or was the wrong call made?

So far, Washington has managed 1-0 and 2-1 leads, but Vegas has been able to respond. The Golden Knights have had their best success creating havoc in front of Holtby and getting some positive bounces. They’ve also avoided some near-goals by Washington before finally getting a lead thanks to a 3-2 goal by Reilly Smith thanks to a brilliant Alex Tuch feed.

After that 3-2 goal was scored, a wild scuffle ensued. With all the frenetic energy being created in front of Washington’s net lately, it’s not shocking that tensions boiled over:

Expect more fireworks during the third period. Will the Capitals rally to win their first Stanley Cup, or will the Golden Knights force a Game 6 in Washington?

Fleury-Ovechkin get heated, Golden Knights put on show before Game 5

Not wanting the season to end is already a good reason to hope that the 2018 Stanley Cup Final extends beyond Game 5, at least if you’re not a Washington Capitals fan.

Fans of the sport as a whole received a few other reasons to hope that this series goes as long as possible thanks to entertaining events before the real action even began. (You can watch that real action via this livestream link.)

The juiciest bit was the part that (probably) wasn’t choreographed. You know, assuming that Marc-Andre Fleury and Alex Ovechkin aren’t keeping kayfabe as part of a pro wrestling-style fake feud.

Before Game 2, Fleury and Ovechkin were quite playful:

With the Capitals a win away from their first Stanley Cup and Vegas in a must-win situation, it’s unclear if their exchange was “playful” or at least a little bit hateful. Judge for yourself, but it sure looks like Fleury wasn’t happy with Ovechkin’s antics:

Well, isn’t that interesting?

Speaking of dramas that felt downright episodic, the Golden Knights provided quite the rendition of their over-the-top, “Game of Thrones” meets Medieval Times presentation. Watch as the Capitals Crusader (just made that one up) and the Golden Knight battle, with the Caps’ soldier briefly getting the upper hand.

And, well, the rest is worth watching if you enjoy some corniness. Enjoy that specific clip in the video above this post’s headline.

***

Circling back to the earlier point: if you don’t have a horse in the race, wouldn’t you want to see what the Golden Knights might have up their sleeves if the series went to a Game 7 for all of the marbles? Would they be able to lure Brittney Spears in to do the show? Maybe there could be another sequel for “The Hangover” to lead in? The possibilities are endless and endlessly fun.

Plus we’d get more Fleury vs. Ovechkin. And more hockey.

Maybe this Vegas team is inspiring a bit of greediness here …

Stanley Cup Final schedule
Game 1 Monday, May 28 – Golden Knights 6, Capitals 4
Game 2 Wednesday, May 30 – Capitals 3, Golden Knights 2
Game 3 Saturday, June 2 – Capitals 3, Golden Knights 1 
Game 4 Monday, June 4 – Capitals 6, Golden Knights 2 (Washington leads series 3-1)
Game 5 Thursday, June 7 – Capitals at Golden Knights, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
Game 6* Sunday, June 10 – Golden Knights at Capitals, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
Game 7* Wednesday, June 13 – Capitals at Golden Knights, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)

* = If necessary

MORE:
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub
• Stanley Cup Final Guide

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.

Capitals’ Stanley Cup Final run is Trotz’s masterpiece

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This Washington Capitals team is a testament to people taking things for granted.

Think of all of the the achievements that were met, ridiculously, with a shoulder shrug:

  • Yet another Maurice Richard Trophy for Alex Ovechkin thanks to 49 goals. It will be his seventh such title.
  • Yawn: another division title, marking the eighth of the Ovechkin era.
  • Sheesh, they didn’t even win the Presidents’ Trophy this time around.

Hockey fans and pundits are probably also guilty of far-too-easily dismissing the brilliant work of Barry Trotz. Such things tend to happen for a bench boss who, much like the Capitals, never advanced beyond the second round before this magical run to 3-1 series lead in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.

Maybe it’s too easy to forget the uncertainty Washington faced before Trotz took over.

Consider that, during the three seasons pre-Trotz, the Capitals missed the postseason once (in 2013-14) and failed to win a single playoff series. Perhaps it was easy to get lost in the “Pittsburgh Penguins curse” narrative and forget just how seamlessly they shot back up the ranks of the NHL. Washington won the Presidents’ Trophy during Trotz’s first two seasons – only to fall to the eventual champions – and owned the Metropolitan Division crown during his reign.

With the benefit of hindsight, this playoff run might honestly be the perfect way for Trotz to receive at least some of the credit he so richly deserves.

Seamless transition

There might have been temptation to dismiss Trotz’s achievements because of all the talent on hand. Capitals GM Brian MacLellan viewed 2015-16 and 2016-17 as the Washington’s two-year championship window, or at least its biggest window for breakthrough success, only to face heartbreak and a hangover.

But maybe those letdowns and fewer roster riches allowed for some focus, and the release of some of the tension of “Oh, but you have to win with this team.”

Despite losing Nate Schmidt, Marcus Johansson, Justin Williams, and Kevin Shattenkirk, the Capitals maintained a high level of postseason success. While this postseason run has been about Alex Ovechkin turning back the clock, Evgeny Kuznetsov finding another gear, and Braden Holtby rekindling his Vezina form, it’s also spotlighted the structural genius of Trotz’s system.

Consider that:

  • The Capitals stood toe-to-toe with a strong possession team in Columbus to win that series.
  • Clearly outplayed the Penguins during that redemptive meeting in the semifinal round. Considering how lucky Pittsburgh’s Game 1 win felt, it’s fair to say that the right team – not just the fortunate one – advanced and justified it being called a “rivalry.”

  • Washington proved to be a riddle the Tampa Bay Lightning failed to solve, too. Andrei Vasilevskiy was able to help Tampa Bay steal some games, yet the Bolts failed to score against Holtby during the final two games of the 2018 Eastern Conference Final. The Lightning’s top line of Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov generally lived off of the power play, as the Bolts had few answers for the Caps at five-on-five.

While the Vegas Golden Knights justifiably carry a “Cinderella” narrative with them, they also presented a fascinating stylistic challenge for the Capitals.

Through three rounds of the postseason, the Golden Knights have been able to create unyielding pressure on the opposition thanks to a ferocious forecheck and impressive team speed. Even the tight four-game sweep of the Kings was misleading, as Los Angeles was often hanging on for dear life, asking Jonathan Quick to carry a huge burden just to stay in games.

An experienced San Jose Sharks team was rattled early in their series via a 7-0 loss in Game 1, and Vegas kept rolling along. With all their waves of talent, the Winnipeg Jets never really found an answer for the Golden Knights’ gauntlet, falling in just five games.

Jonathan Marchessault and the rest of the Golden Knights’ top line made a strong argument that it was “for real” during the postseason.

The Capitals, in turn, made them feel a lot like Tampa’s top combo of Kucherov and Stamkos. Vegas had to feel a bit shackled and negated, not to mention frustrated. Some of that comes down to Washington’s talent, depth, and versatility. Still, it’s the Trotz blueprint that stands as the primary explanation for why the Golden Knights’ freight train approach screeched to a halt.

And, again, that unyielding structure is something people just came to expect from Trotz.

Beautiful hockey mind

Maybe we merely needed to see the game evolve to truly appreciate his work? The NHL is clearly (and from an entertainment standpoint, delightfully) turning to a more attacking, “modern” style. To some, it seems like coaches’ ability to kill all fun and offense hit a critical mass in recent years, and now it’s time for offenses to take over.

Trotz’s work stands as a counterpoint to that thought.

On the other hand, much of his genius is finding the right combination of offense and responsibility. Washington has shown an ability to be able to trade punches with the best of them when needed -Game 4 saw the adrenaline go through the roof, and the Caps were just fine, thank you – yet they’ve also thrived in the kind of grinding games people expect from the postseason.

Through some combination of design and necessity, Trotz has helped the Capitals transform into a hockey chameleon, and that versatility leaves them one win from the franchise’s – and coach’s – first Stanley Cup victory.

The beauty of it all is that Trotz is so widely loved and respected. His acumen and love of the sport can be seen in how he’d hold court with Nashville media, not unlike Herb Brooks going out of his way to teach sports reporters the finer points of hockey.

As you may remember, reporters including Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman wondered if Trotz said that he was on his way out of Washington during a handshake line chat with Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella.

That moment came as the Capitals were heading into the uncertainty that was another second-round series with the Penguins. There have been denials about that statement being made, but if there was a kernel of truth to such scuttlebutt, maybe the drive behind such feelings was that Trotz didn’t feel appreciated. Maybe he felt taken for granted.

(And, sure, there also might be a succession plan involving assistant Todd Reirden.)

Maybe such feelings leave the door open ever so slightly that, even if the Capitals win it all, Trotz might be somewhere else. It’s tough to imagine that actually happening, but stranger things have happened in sports.

Whatever the case may be, Barry Trotz has now earned the right to call his shot, and reminded us all of how brilliant he truly is along the way.

Now he just needs to make sure the Capitals don’t take that next win for granted.

MORE:
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub
• Stanley Cup Final Guide

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.