At a point of desperation, Washington usually finds a way to crumble. This is not the hockey team I’m talking about. Nor the baseball team. Nor the basketball team. Nor the football team. This is all walks of human existence that crumbles. Starting from Fulton, Maryland going and going down to Richmond with all points in between.
Braden Holtby, and his 361 career regular season games with 225 of them being wins (good for 70th all-time) just seems like this could be the start of the end of his playing peak for him. Lars Eller and Nicklas Backstrom could not give anymore. Every weakness of the fourth line, especially when Alex Chiasson is out there, from the regular season gets more and more poked and prodded by Chris Kunitz and Ryan Callahan by every shift. Lastly, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Alex Ovechkin have given their entire body and soul throughout the past 17 games, it was just undertain if they have what it took to deliver the same otherworldly production again for the 18th time.
For one night, all those doubts were shoved in the dumpster and lit on fire.
It took quite a while for a hockey game to break out and there was loads of chippiness between Kunitz and Tom Wilson, as it has been all series. Add in the fact that the refs went for the “let boys be boys” way of officiating for 90% of the game and it was beyond understandable for a fight to breakout. Surely enough, that’s what happened between Brooks Orpik and J.T. Miller after he saw enough shenanigans from Kunitz. The first period remained scoreless and dull if you measure enjoyment off of shots on goal, but it was a prequel for what was about to happen next.
Simply put, Washington’s heavier and taller skaters took every Lightning player that dared touch the puck to the woodshed. In particular, Kunitz and Dan Girardi were flattened like a pancake in almost every shift in the second period. How no injuries or power plays to Tampa Bay came about this belligerence, I will never know. But that is more a credit to the Capitals for finishing clean, unlike other hits this postseason.
By the time Washington had a chance on the power play, they made sure to cash in with absolute authority. With T.J. Oshie hitting the back of the net, it was the first power play goal in eight tries for the Capitals and Oshie’s first goal in seven games. For a power play unit averaging 137 shot attempts per hour this series, being overdue for a goal is nothing short of an understatement. The Capitals needed 6 shot attempts in a-minute and 23 seconds, but the dam finally broke for them when the pressure was too much. The pressure seemed to be out of the building if you discounted a handful of pipe ringing shots from Nikita Kucherov. If anything else, the guards were dropped just enough for fans to see the action through them.
Plenty of the reason for that was Holtby finally stepping up at a time his team needed him most. He may have only faced 24 shots, but he simply had to outplay Andrei Vasilevskiy, who was admirable on his own again, to give Washington a chance at a Game 7. He was and nothing encapsulated his performance more than a glove save with 13 minutes left in the third period.
After looking like Tampa was finally going to tie this game up, the unthinkable happened. After Tampa have looked like they finally were able to out-skate Washington every game, Chandler Stephenson prevented an icing to beat Braydon Coburn to the puck. Afterwards, the puck squirted to Jay Beagle along the boards, then back to Stephenson who fed a streaking Devante Smith-Pelly between the two faceoff dots and slotted it in. Bedlam and euphoria ensued. How anyone dared to sit down after that goal, I have no idea.
But it’s not like Tampa were finished just yet. With more than 11 minutes to go, Tampa had one last power play to claw anything back from this tense affair. Even if they were to not score on their first try, their two shot attempts were just enough to remind the whole crowd how powerful it has been all series. Washington had to make a stop.
Not only did they make a complete stop, but they made sure every entry was the ugliest you have ever witnessed. Not only that, but you can feel every one of their drive and determination to steal the puck, go the other way, and create two-on-one situations at every turn. The stat line ended up reading two shot attempts to one Washington, but it felt like a complete understatement for how much the Capitals hounded the ABSOLUTE TAR out of Tampa’s puck carriers in the neutral zone.
Say whatever you want about Tom Wilson, but if you wanted an ultimate example as to why he is a valuable member to a hockey team, his penalty killing was nothing short of 2010 Mike Richards level good in that two-minute span and almost scored via a mid-air tip-in try shorthanded. To say that all in Capital One Arena were inspired afterwards doesn’t come close to doing justice. If anything, they were taken to church and blessed by what they just witnessed!
From here, it was a matter of finishing it off. Surely enough, T.J. Oshie put the icing on the cake to one of the most glorious victories a generation of sports fans in this city has ever seen. For one night, Braden Holtby got his redemption. Even Brooks Orpik, with his five massive hits to completely shift the feeling of the occasion, got his redemption. Washington’s special teams got their redemption. Even that man Tom Wilson, better get redemption to the hearts of outsiders.
Now enough Tampa fans and other casual fans will argue that Washington has been dirty all series and they did get away with enough tripping, hooking and too many men infractions as Tampa did. They have some cases in point, but unlike Game 5, none of those non-calls looked like such a disadvantage that it was the cause of last night’s result. Game 7 will be nothing short of a misery to all. Washington will return for glorious joy to withering agony surely enough.
But if anything else, the second greatest season in the history of the Washington Capitals lives on. They have generated better puck possession and now have the puck luck edge over Tampa throughout the course of the series. Even Trotz has continued to find positive line changes by inserting Jakub Vrana on the second line and keeping the faith with Andre Burakovsky and putting him back on the fourth line. If he avoids his usual pitfalls, Washington has a chance, at minimum. Either way, Wednesday will be immense. Let’s hope this team rises to the occasion once more.