Las Vegas (AFP) – The Washington Capitals ended 44 years of playoff frustration on Thursday, beating the expansion Vegas Golden Knights 4-3 to claim their first Stanley Cup title in franchise history.
Lars Eller and Devante Smith-Pelly scored third period goals just 2:31 apart as the Capitals came from behind to win the National Hockey League championship series in five games — and end the fairy-tale run of the Golden Knights’ first season.
“It means everything. I think this moment, we waiting a long, long time,” said forward Alex Ovechkin. “This organization wanted it so bad.
“It’s nice to be part of it. It’s nice to be in this organization all 13, 14 years, whatever. It just was a joy. Was tough time, but we fight through it and we get results.”
The title ends decades of heartbreak not only for the NHL team but for the city of Washington, as it had been over 26 years since a major sports team from the US capital had won a championship.
“You can never imagine how this feels. This is one of the best feelings ever,” said American forward T.J. Oshie.
It also marks the first Stanley Cup title for Russian star Ovechkin, who scored his 15th playoff goal in the second period and was named Most Valuable Player of the 2018 playoffs.
Ovechkin was the league-leader in goals during the playoffs and finished second overall in scoring with 27 points.
The Capitals won their 10th game on the road in the postseason to equal the league record which had been set four times previously, most recently by the 2012 Los Angeles Kings.
Washington, who entered the league as an expansion team in 1974, ended the miraculous season of the Knights, who are just the third NHL team in league history to reach the finals in their inaugural campaign.
They join the Toronto Arenas and St. Louis Blues, but the Golden Knights had a much more difficult road to get there.
The Arenas did it in the league’s first ever postseason and Blues were part of a division comprised of all expansion teams in the late 1960s.
“They’re disappointed and dejected,” said Vegas coach Gerard Gallant. “We had an outstanding year, but it doesn’t feel like it right now. Obviously, we’ll get to that in a few days’ time.”
Czech forward Jakub Vrana had the other Capitals goal as he opened the scoring in a five-goal second period after the teams failed to produce a goal in a tight-checking first period.
Denmark’s Eller scored the winning goal with 7:37 left in the third period in front of a crowd of 18,500 at Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena.
“It is amazing,” said Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby, who finished with 28 saves. “We have a lot of different personalities on this team but we meshed like crazy.”
Capitals coach Barry Trotz said they had the right combination of skill, toughness and desire to get the job done.
– Comeback kids –
“You can get pushed out of a series if you have skill and you don’t have the will,” said Trotz. “You got to have the heart and will first and once that base is there the skill comes out.
“This team just had a calmness about it. I don’t think I have ever been so calm throughout a playoff run. We had pretty good clarity about how we wanted to play.”
The Capitals had never won the Stanley Cup but made it to the final once before, in 1998, and lost to the Detroit Red Wings in four straight games. In these playoffs they had to come from behind constantly.
“We have been in a deficit every series. People said we didn’t have what it takes,” Trotz said. “I think it was fitting that we came back in the third period tonight. We been doing it all year.
“It just shows that we have a great group of guys that have a great belief and we stuck with it.”