Ovechkin, Caps fi­nally hoist Cup

Star leads team to first NHL cham­pi­onship in fran­chise his­tory

The Mercury News Weekend - - SPORTS - By Greg Beacham The As­so­ci­ated Press

LASVEGAS » Af­ter 43 sea­sons, the Washington Cap­i­tals are fi­nally sit­ting on top of hockey.

Lars Eller scored the tiebreak­ing goal with 7:37 to play, and the Cap­i­tals raised the Stan­ley Cup for the first time in fran­chise his­tory af­ter a 4-3 vic­tory over the Ve­gas Golden Knights in Game 5 on Thurs­day night.

Cap­tain Alex Ovechkin capped his play­off MVP campaign with a power-play goal, and De­vante Smith-Pelly tied it with a full­stretch goal mid­way through the fi­nal pe­riod of the Cap­i­tals’ fourth con­sec­u­tive vic­tory over the Golden Knights, whose in­cred­i­ble ex­pan­sion sea­son fi­nally ended in the desert.

So did the Cap­i­tals’ ag­o­niz­ing wait for their first cham­pi­onship since the fran­chise’s de­but in 1974. Af­ter so many years of crush­ing dis­ap­point­ment for a team with a lengthy his­tory of post­sea­son fail­ure, th­ese Cap­i­tals con­fi­dently won their fourth con­sec­u­tive close­out game with a tena­cious third-pe­riod come­back in Ve­gas.

Ovechkin and his team­mates are Washington’s first cham­pi­onship hockey team — and their city’s first cham­pion in a ma­jor pro sport since the Red­skins won

the Su­per Bowl in early 1992.

“We did it,” said Ovechkin, whose 15 play­off goals set a fran­chise record. “That’s all that mat­ters. Look at the smiles on my team­mates. This is some­thing you’ll never for­get. This mo­ment, I’ll re­mem­ber for the rest of my life. I’m so happy. It’s un­be­liev­able.”

Af­ter Ovechkin ac­cepted the Conn Smythe Tro­phy, he re­ceived the Cup from NHL com­mis­sioner Gary Bettman. Ovechkin shouted “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!” through his gap-toothed grin be­fore skat­ing away and hoist­ing the prize over his head for a vic­tory lap in front of thou­sands of red- clad fans.

When Ovi got the Cup back, he handed it to Ted Leon­sis, the Caps’ owner since 1999.

“I’m so happy for the group that has gone through the mis­ery,” said Washington coach Barry Trotz, a first-time champ in his 19th sea­son be­hind an NHL bench.

Af­ter Ve­gas won the Fi­nal opener, the Cap­i­tals capped their four- game surge by ral­ly­ing from a third-pe­riod deficit in this cathartic Game 5, ban­ish­ing any mem­ory of play­off fail­ure with clutch goals and rugged play across their lineup.

Braden Holtby made 28 saves in Game 5, out­play­ing three-time Stan­ley Cup cham­pion Marc- An­dre Fleury in the other net one fi­nal time.

“When you get this close to the Cup, it’s hard,” Fleury said. “Doesn’t hap­pen too of­ten. It’s very dis­ap­point­ing.”

The Caps couldn’t win a Cup with­out a lit­tle late weird­ness, how­ever: The game clock stopped work­ing on the T-Mo­bile Arena score­boards dur­ing the fi­nal min­utes, and the Cap­i­tals an­grily protested while they played on. Ve­gas never got close to a ty­ing goal, and the clock fi­nally hit ze­ros, al­low­ing the Caps to storm the ice be­hind their net for a fren­zied cel­e­bra­tion.

Reilly Smith scored a goa­head goal late in the sec­ond pe­riod for the Golden Knights, who won seven of their first eight home play­off games be­fore drop­ping the last two.

The de­feat ends the in­cred­i­ble in­au­gu­ral sea­son of the Golden Knights, who be­came the NHL’s 31st fran­chise last fall and im­me­di­ately launched into ar­guably the great­est de­but in modern pro sports his­tory.

Nate Schmidt and David Per­ron also scored for Ve­gas in the sec­ond pe­riod, but Fleury’s 29 saves in­cluded a stopped puck that dropped un­der­neath him where Eller could sweep it home for the Cup-win­ning goal.

“It means ev­ery­thing,” Eller said. “You couldn’t write the story bet­ter. If you’re go­ing to win on the road, I couldn’t imag­ine a bet­ter place to do it.”

For­ward T. J. Oshie spent a mo­ment in the cel­e­bra­tion look­ing up for his fa­ther, Tim, who he said was re­cently di­ag­nosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

“He doesn’t re­mem­ber a lot of stuff, but he’s go­ing to re­mem­ber this,” Oshie said. “I’ve never seen a team come to­gether like we did here. I’ve never seen the com­mit­ment from start to fin­ish like we had here.”

Washington’s win was its 10th on the road in this post­sea­son, ty­ing the NHL play­off record and il­lus­trat­ing the su­pe­rior tough­ness of this team. While past edi­tions of the Caps cre­ated their team’s rep­u­ta­tion for post­sea­son flops in part by los­ing five play­off se­ries in which they had won three of the first four games, Ovechkin’s lat­est group promptly closed out all four of its se­ries this year on the very first try.

The Caps also came back from se­ries deficits in all four rounds and clinched all four se­ries on the road.

The re­mark­able Golden Knights hadn’t lost four con­sec­u­tive games in their en­tire in­au­gu­ral sea­son be­fore the Caps rolled them.

The Cap­i­tals had thou­sands of fans in the Ve­gas crowd and a build­ing full of sup­port­ers watch­ing back home along with count­less thou­sands out­side in the crowded D.C. streets. They got a barn-burner of a fi­nale be­fit­ting this thrilling se­ries, with wild shifts of mo­men­tum be­fore that bizarre clock in­ci­dent that didn’t ap­pear to af­fect the out­come.

Ovechkin, who turns 33 later this year, has been among the most ex­cit­ing and pro­duc­tive players in his sport since join­ing the Caps in 2005. Yet for all of his goal- scor­ing prow­ess and ath­letic swag­ger, the Great Eight had never won an Olympic goldmedal or a Stan­ley Cup ti­tle.

But af­ter be­com­ing the fifth player in the last quar­ter- cen­tury to score at least 15 goals in a post­sea­son, Ovechkin is a cham­pion at last. He also be­came the first Rus­sian cap­tain to raise the Cup in NHL his­tory.

Ovechkin is the 16th player in NHL his­tory to wait at least 1,000 reg­u­larsea­son games be­fore rais­ing the Stan­ley Cup for the first time. Only two did it with just one team: Ovi and De­troit’s Steve Yz­er­man.

JOHN LOCHER — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Alex Ovechkin screams in joy as he takes the Stan­ley Cup af­ter the Cap­i­tals fin­ished off the Golden Knights in five games.

ROSS D. FRANKLIN – THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Washington’s Lars Eller, right, cel­e­brates af­ter scor­ing the win­ning goal in the third pe­riod of Game 5of the Stan­ley Cup Fi­nals on Thurs­day.

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