Plain and simple, this wasn’t supposed to happen.
The Washington Capitals have never scored more than two goals in a Game 7 since 1988.
Washington basically had to play a perfect game against arguably the most complete team in the NHL.
Washington was one of the worst puck possession teams in the entire NHL all regular season while Tampa was one of the best.
Braden Holtby may be washed up.
Washington also doesn’t have enough Canadians on their team.
And yet, they have shoved every naysayer to the curb and have used that attitude to carry themselves to the Stanley Cup Final. That’s right, this team is about to play for something they haven’t dreamed of in their history. In fact, it will be 26 years since this city has experienced anything like it. To “Washingtonian” Mike Wilbon’s chagrin, all that have watched the game in sports bars across the region and in Capital One Arena’s viewing party spilled to the streets and celebrated in complete delirium. No, it is not a Championship, but bluntly, this town has been shoved around for too long. What else do expect from someone who’s been bullied that much?!
Before we could even have the tension reach peak levels, Alexander Ovechkin, the greatest major sport athlete this city has ever had in half-a-century, score the opening goal within 62 seconds. Just like that, Tampa had no idea what to do. Heck, I don’t know what either fan base knew what to do emotionally, but here they were. Then, Washington could have made it 2-0 if it weren’t for a Jakub Vrana shot that hit the post at the tail end of a power play.
But it’s not like Tampa were going to go away quietly just yet. First, Braydon Coburn decided to pull off Evgeny Kuznetsov’s jersey. In the most hockey way ever, Tom Wilson took complete offense to it and decided to go after Coburn. Once the two got out of the penalty box for their matching roughing minors, they met again at center ice and went toe-to-toe. Many will argue Wilson was a complete idiot for trading his absence on the top line for an absence to a depth defensemen while others will argue Coburn got what he deserved for “disrespecting the jersey”. I would like to add that this rage was boiling over for sometime from all the shenanigans that Chris Kunitz was delivering all series. Add in the fact that he fell down like a sack of potatoes off of a Wilson hit that resulted in Ovechkin’s goal and I find it hard to ignore how much Tampa took offense to it, especially after receiving so much brutality from all the hitting in Game 6. Either way, hindsight shows that that fight didn’t matter in the end.
And yet it almost did in the second period. Not only did Victor Hedman ring a shot off the post, but also carried the puck so close to goal that he tucked it behind Holtby’s skates only for Yanni Gourde to swing and miss on as yawning of an empty net you will see! Those are the plays you see the Capitals commit all the time and yet it’s happening to the other team this time.
After Tampa built so much pressure, it was then Tampa’s turn to hit the next step of “choking”: making some of the dumbest mistakes you will see. First, Dan Girardi, a defenseman that is still getting more ice time than Mikhail Sergachev, caught the puck on a dump in only to see it lost after dropping it to the ice to Andre Burakovsky for him to score on a breakaway. Next, Tampa was caught on a bad line change and Burakovsky struck again.
Washington 3, Tampa 0.
Again. With more feeling. This is not how things usually work.
And even if there were any thoughts on the worst that could happen, like say, 2013 Boston-Toronto Game 7, none of that happened at all. It was anti-climactic. Maybe all the #hotlaps in between intermissions to kept the good times rolling. It was Braden Holtby making one more cool save to get his second shutout in two games. It was the man nicknamed “Snoopy” picking up an errant pass before putting it into open space for Nicklas Backstrom to tuck home an empty net goal from close range. It was all she wrote.
Before it was all said and done. The city poured (even literally) with emotion.
And now it’s the always cursed Washington team against the brand new Vegas team in the Stanley Cup Final. All the way up to both captains doing whatever they want with the Conference Champion trophies, this is a final that breaks traditional thinking.
George McPhee, Nate Schmidt and Dave Prior return to their former home. As does Marc-Andre Fleury and his always subtle but always painful trash talking. John Walton may have screamed that “demons have been exercised” before, but not every one of them has gone away. All Washington needs to do is win one Cup Final game and it will be the greatest postseason run in franchise history, but that doesn’t kill a curse. Fans demand the Cup now.
Alex Ovechkin is 32. Nicklas Backstrom is 30. T.J. Oshie is 31. Matt Niskanen is also 31. Brooks Orpik is 37. John Carlson will be asking for a ton of money if he ends up coming back to D.C. Tom Wilson and Philipp Grubauer would like a raise, too. All the salary cap will definitely be used up if they ever want to make any more upgrades along this roster, as if that hasn’t happened already. Simply put, it’s now or never for this team. While it won’t be a complete disappointment, many more miracles will have to be made if they don’t win it all this year.
But what a time to do it and what a time to have this city come to life. We’ve all been waiting 26 years for it.