Alex Ovechkin’s emotional display during the waning minutes of last night’s Stanley Cup Final Game 5 told the whole story. Ovechkin was the picture of determination when he walked into T-Mobile Arena, Thursday.
Hours later, he was doubled over with anxiety and anticipation as the minutes ticked down and the Las Vegas Golden Knights mounted their last desperate attack.
When the clock in T-Mobile Arena malfunctioned, Ovechkin looked beside himself. Finally, with a faceoff coming in the Capitals’ zone, but only 0.6 seconds remaining in regulation, Ovechkin jumped up and down, arms around his teammates, ecstatic for what was, in all likelihood, less than a second away from happening.
Finally, the horn sounded signaling the end of the 2017-18 Stanley Cup Final and the Capitals’ title-clinching 4-3 victory over the Las Vegas Golden Knights.
For the Golden Knights, a season which has often been called more unbelievable than a Hollywood movie script, ended like some Hollywood underdog stories do.
Rather than ending like “Miracle” or “Hoosiers” the Golden Knights’ story ended with Cinderella losing in the end. like “Mystery, Alaska” or “Friday Night Lights,” fans around the nation filled in for the fans in the movies that start a slow clap in a show of respect for the effort of the defeated team.
Even in a loss, Las Vegas and its players have gained the respect that no one gave them at the outset and provide a glimmer of hope for those future longshots, which may spring up In Seattle or Houston in the next decade.
The Capitals version of the film ends like a 90s teen sex-comedy, where the main character, who’s virginity has stuck with him for so long like a mark of shame — although not one that is deserved — finally pops their cherry and can’t stop smiling (I’m looking at you Alex “Andy Stitzer” Ovechkin.)
Ovechkin popped two cherries in one night, winning the Stanley Cup and the Conn Smythe for the league’s most valuable playoff performer.
Ovechkin’s win was not the type of honor handed out simply as an unofficial lifetime achievement award. It was clear Ovechkin had, had enough disappointment for one career refused to lose.
Ovechkin’s 27 points in the Stanley Cup Playoffs were good for more than a point per game output and placed him second overall in scoring in the postseason just behind teammate Evgeny Kuznetsov.
Kuznetsov finished with 12 goals and 20 assists to Ovechkin’s 15 and 12; and he was a key player (I’ll get to him in a second) but Ovechkin showed that he is more than just a pure goal scorer and more than ready to make the sacrifices necessary to win.
Ovechkin’s scoring was as advertised. He was lethal from his normal spot on the power play and contributed goals at key points in games. He scored three go-ahead goals in the finals, two on the power play.
Ovechkin scored throughout the Capitals’ run, including the opening goal in Game 7 of the conference finals, on the way to Washington’s 4-0 victory.
But Ovechkin did more than just score, he blocked shots. He was one of the many Capitals who helped limit Braden Holtby’s action in the face of an aggressive Golden Knights attack.
Though Ovechkin was perhaps the most deserving, he had three teammates that were deserved consideration for the Conn Smythe as well.
The Capitals’ top line of Ovechkin, Wilson and Kuznetsov was deadly in this series. While Wilson was the agitator and Ovechkin the finisher, Kuznetsov was the playmaker.
He led the NHL playoffs in points with 32 and points per game with 1.33 points per game.
Apart from setting up his teammates and filling the net, Kuznetsov’s speed pulled the Golden Knights out of position repeatedly and wreaked havoc in their offensive zone. Kuznetsov’s speedy recovery from an injury that knocked him out of Game 2 enabled him to assist on Ovechkin’s opening goal of Game 3 and score the eventual game winner just over 10 minutes later.
I probably haven’t given Holtby the credit he deserves for the Capitals’ win. After not starting the Capitals’ first two games in the playoffs, Holtby took his starting job back from Phillip Grubauer and never let it go again.
In the finals, he never really stole a game, except for maybe game 2 with his lead-protecting stick save. More importantly, he didn’t give the series away, which is a lot easier for a goalie to do (cough, cough, Luongo) than steal an actual game or even a whole series.
Holtby rebounded from his gaffe in Game 3 to play a steady reliable game. The Capitals’ ability to limit second chances and traffic in front of their net played a huge role, but Holtby made every save he needed to in order to win.
Though he did engage in some acrobatics, he was positionally sound and as a result made saves that flew below the radar, but he did make those saves.
On the other end, Marc-Andre Fleury played well, but his team let him down. Fleury made very difficult first, second and even third attempt saves, but the defensive breakdowns committed by the Golden Knights sometimes forced him to make a fourth or even fifth save, which was asking too much.
Fleury’s mistake in Game 1 did not affect his performance throughout the series, and perhaps the only goal he wanted back was the back breaker for the Golden Knights.
The puck that squeaked through his pads in the third period which Lars Eller converted for the eventual series winner could be regarded as soft, but one could also blame Luca Sbisa for his brutal giveaway and lack of coverage on Eller.
Look ahead, both teams have major decisions to make. Barry Trotz obviously will have an offer from the Capitals (unless they know something we don’t like he’s going to retire.)
If, for some reason, Trotz doesn’t return, they will be left with a major void, and finding a coach of Trotz caliber will be tough.
The Golden Knights have an even more uncertain future. Before their Cinderella season, they had a plan. A roadmap to future success. Will they stray from that path in order to keep ajar a Stanley Cup window that unexpectedly opened for them? What will they do with William Karlsson and other RFAs and UFAs.