Thursday marks the two-year anniversary of one of the greatest moments in Caps history: Evgeny Kuznetsov's overtime goal that sent the Caps past the Penguins to the Eastern Conference Final for the first time since 1998 (and well, we all know what happens from there).
Members of NBC Sports Washington's coverage looked back on where they were that moment that puck went into the back of the net and Kuzy's famous celly commenced.
I remember exactly where I was when that happened, in fact, that's probably my favorite Capitals highlight of all time because of all of the build-up and how it happened.
The bosses at NBC Sports Washington said "hey, go down to a bar in DC and hang out with Caps fans, do some interviews and watch the game," and I thought "I mean, that's a sacrifice I'm willing to make." So, I went down there, of course, it's a 1-1 game and we're in overtime and when Kuzy broke away I think we all thought what Ovi was thinking … was just … score!
And I didn't realize that he had scored at first when he went with the backhand, it was only until they cut away and I saw him doing the eagle that I thought, "Oh my god, he actually put it through," and then I watched the Doc Emerick call again and again and again.
I think we all felt at that time, even though we weren't sure the Caps were going to win it all that this season, that season was going to be different because they had finally broken through. And sure enough, that's what happened.
I also bought shots for the entire bar about an hour later… and that was awesome.
I like it when May 7th rolls around. Some really good things happened for the Caps on May 7th, 2018. Even better, on the 7th of June that same spring, but you couldn't have one without the other. I remember where Craig Laughlin and I were on May 7th: We were at the NBC Sports Washington studios. We were manning the desk for pregame and postgame, hanging on every word, on every play from Game 6 at PPG Paints Arena. I thought Braden Holtby deserved a medal for his performance in that game, he was incredible and richly deserved to win it.
I remember almost falling out of my chair when [Tom] Kuhnhackl hit the post in overtime and then just a couple of minutes later when [Alex] Ovechkin sent Kuznetsov in on the breakaway, I can remember rising up out of my chair, you could feel the electricity in the studio, in the control room on that breakaway, here was the chance to bury the Penguins. He scores, I swear I rise up out of the chair, I probably missed 90 percent of the high five with Locker, we were so elated with that goal … and to see Kuzy fly off into the celebration, it's a memory that I will never ever forget.
I remember standing at the top of the like the first section of seats at PPG Paints Arena with Alan [May], and as Ovi springs Kuzy, you could just feel a silence in the building as everyone kind of sensed what was about to happen. And then he shoots, and if you remember seeing the video, Alan jumps right up on the stage. I didn't know it and I looked at him and then I did the bird celly cause I saw Kuzy do the bird celly, that was the only reason I knew the Caps had just won. I couldn't believe it, I was stunned, and the building was silent except for the Caps fans yelling and at that moment I thought, "Oh my god, they just beat the Penguins," and then my next thought was, "Oh My God, the Caps might win the Stanley Cup."
So the anniversary of Kuzy's game-winner has arrived … soon enough this guy would make the save and the Caps would be Stanley Cup champions. My memories … puck is Ovechkin's, he sends Kuzy ahead. Kuzy is out in front, I'm expecting him to be stonewalled, he goes 5-hole, you couldn't tell the puck went in right away. For a moment I don't know if he scored. Then, when I see that head drop and I know that puck is in and he's doing the bird, I remember just fighting back tears and screaming at the top of my lungs like I was on an island and I finally saw a helicopter overhead and they were coming to save me. It's one of the greatest moments of my sports life.
Well that night, I'm in our studios getting ready for our postgame show when Game 6 goes into overtime. Now, remember, I'm the guy that broadcast not one, but two Capitals playoff games that went four overtimes and the Capitals lost both. So thank goodness, Evgeny Kuznetsov didn't make us wait that long that night and certainly gave us a much better outcome. Now two of the things that always impressed me about Kuznetsov's game is his skating style and his dangle with the puck and when you watch that breakaway goal, they both are prominently displayed. His blades never leave the ice as he starts and then when he goes into that glide, he's still going so fast no Penguin can slow him down. Remember Kris Letang, the Penguins best defenseman makes a diving effort, can't stop Kuzy.
Then the dangle… closes in on Matt Murray, head up all the way, see what Murray's giving him, picks his spot… bang…game… set …match. And that's just one of the reasons that I thought Evgeny Kuznetsov deserved to be the Conn Smythe Trophy winner for the MVP of the entire Stanley Cup Playoffs.
May 7th was a Hallelujah moment of watching the Caps. Pittsburgh and the Caps, one of the best rivalries in the game of hockey. Caps often ended up on the wrong side of the scoreboard, but not May 7th during their Stanley Cup run. What a play it was all around. What impressed me most about this… there are several things. Number one, how the Capitals played defense on their own blueline, the way Ovechkin played both sides of the puck, his defense led to offense and then, of course, Evgeny Kuznetsov's speed to beat two Penguins and then to work that deke against Matt Murray … out of this world.
And what was the best thing for me, was the sound I heard in my ear after that goal went in. Complete silence, Caps win! And that to me is one of the best goals all-time for the Washington Capitals franchise.
To sum up all of the feelings of what went into an overtime game-winner in Pittsburgh in Game 6, you really have to look at the big picture of that day and the history that had come before it. You're up three games to two in the series, but you're playing Pittsburgh, and that had meant bad things for a generation if you're a Capitals fan. So on that day, when there's no [Nicklas] Backstrom and there's no [Tom] Wilson and you're into overtime and your heart's in your chest and you're calling what you see in front of you and at the same time you're thinking "Could this actually be the time that you put these guys to bed?"
They won back-to-back Cups and there was this emotional crescendo of all of this stuff coming together at the same time and at the same moment you are needing to be ready for what comes next. And when I saw Alex Ovechkin get the puck at the blueline I could see Kuznetsov breaking kind of out of the corner of my eye because as the play-by-play guy, you're on the puck. And you see him getting ahead from where the defensemen were for Pittsburgh, and he slipped by as you saw the puck come through center ice, you're just hoping it connects. And when you see it connect, you realize where Kuzy is, and as he broke into the zone, I know Alex said something along the same lines "Please effing score." I think that's what was going through all of our minds more or less. Could this actually be it? Could he finish it off right here?
And there was that moment, just that slight hesitation, of realizing where the puck was, Murray had gone down, it goes through and you realize it's in. Truth be known, Ken Sabourin, I think, knew it a half-second before me because he starts beating me on the shoulder and he's jumping up and down, and then everything else… you almost just black out.
Whatever comes out comes out and you hope as a play-by-play guy, you just want to get that moment right… and I hope I did. But it was one of the most exciting moments I have ever seen in a hockey game anywhere, whether I was watching on TV, as a fan, as a kid growing up… to be able to be in the building for a moment like that was truly spectacular.
I have heard in the years that have gone by since from fans, that some who say that, "gosh, wouldn't it had been great if that could have been at home." If we could have been watching that happen at Capital One Arena as opposed to Pittsburgh, and I politely have to disagree only because to be in that building to listen to all of those people get real quiet and then file out after all of the things that had happened in the building over the years and going back to Civic Arena for that matter, it was exceptional to be able to watch that moment … the biggest goal in franchise history. I don't think there is any doubt about it.
There would be bigger goals, Lars Eller yes of course in Game 5, but this one was the one you needed to get over the hump, and Evgeny Kuznetsov thankfully provided it.
May 7th, 2018 .. Game 6 … Caps-Penguins… I will never forget that game, I will never forget watching that game. I'll never forget what it was like knowing that the Capitals had finally gotten past the Penguins. That this could be the year. Finally! I was in studio in Bethesda watching with the TV crews and when Ovechkin stole that puck and gave it to Kuzy, I've seen the Caps enough that I wouldn't believe it until I actually saw it, but I knew in that moment that they were going to do it. And you can tell that I knew and everyone in that room knew because the video of it, they took video of us watching it for our reaction.
Everyone stood up, everyone leans forward towards the TV while they were watching and he scored. I don't remember anything that happened after that. Immediately after that, according to the video, me and Grant Paulsen started hugging immediately, celebrating that the Caps had finally done it. They've finally beaten the Pittsburgh Penguins. What an incredible moment I will never forget watching.
And with all of these things as a writer, after the 10 seconds of pure joy and ecstasy, my thoughts immediately went to, "Oh, I got a lot of writing to do," because the Caps are headed to the Eastern Conference Finals.
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