Wednesday marks the five-year anniversary of the date the Capitals clinched their first Stanley Cup championship in franchise history. After years of frustrating playoff losses and mounting criticisms that Alex Ovechkin wasn’t a postseason winner, both team and player put it all together to mount one of the more impressive runs in NHL history.
In every series, the Capitals trailed their opponent. And in every series, they mounted the comeback in impressive fashion. Obstacles that had seemed insurmountable for years throughout the Ovechkin era were finally cleared.
Their first-round woes were quashed with a 4-2 series win over the Columbus Blue Jackets. They then took down two teams that had sent them packing in years past by beating the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning. After falling behind the newly founded Vegas Golden Knights 1-0 in the Finals, the Capitals then ripped off four straight to send D.C. into a frenzy.
Ovechkin hoisted the Cup and the Conn Smythe, adding the most impactful of accomplishments to his Hall of Fame resume. But he was far from alone in guiding Washington to its championship title. When going back and looking through all the biggest highlights of their run, it’s hard to even find a spot for him at the top of the list.
Five years after the Capitals completed their run, here are the five best moments that still stand out today.
5. Eller notches Cup-winning goal in decisive Game 5 vs. Vegas
It wasn’t flashy, but Lars Eller’s game-winning goal in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals warrants a spot on this list just for its magnitude alone. In a game where the Capitals entered the third period trailing 3-2 (more on how they climbed back into it later), Eller scored the last goal they would need to complete one final comeback and win it all.
4. Eller turns the tide with double-OT goal in Game 3 vs. Columbus
Long before the Capitals paraded down Constitution Avenue, they were in serious danger of being bounced out of the playoffs before their run even got started. The Blue Jackets jumped out to a 2-0 lead in their first-round series, winning each of the first two games in overtime.
Despite the setback, the Capitals remained locked in and breathed life into their championship hopes in double overtime of Game 3 when Eller managed to redirect a rebounded shot past Sergei Bobrovsky for the game-winner.
3. Kuznetsov’s breakaway OT winner eliminates Penguins
In a play that encapsulates the rapid adrenaline-inducing ability of an NHL playoff game to turn on its head as well as any, Sidney Crosby skated into the Capitals’ zone with the puck but a poke check turned it over and set up Evgeny Kuznetsov for the breakaway.
Kuznetsov didn’t miss, finding the back of the net to secure a dramatic Game 6 victory and, as Capitals radio play-by-play man John Walton famously put it, the demons were exorcised.
2. Holtby makes “The Save” to keep the Capitals ahead in Game 2
The Capitals needed to hold on for just two more minutes. Washington carried a 3-2 lead over the Golden Knights in Game 2 into the final 120 seconds, but Vegas wasn’t going away quietly. The home team set up what appeared to be a wide-open shot for right wing Alex Tuch. That is, until Braden Holtby flung his body across the crease to barely stop the shot with his stick.
Washington held on to win its first Stanley Cup game in 30 years and the legend of “The Save” was born.
1. Smith-Pelly dives for game-tying goal in decisive Game 5 vs. Vegas
Eller’s game-winner may have been the Stanley Cup clincher, but the Capitals wouldn’t have gotten that far if it weren’t for the play of Devante Smith-Pelly. The journeyman fourth-liner carved out a valuable role with the Capitals down the stretch and scored seven goals in the postseason, including this leaping shot that tied things up in the third period of Game 5.