Alex Ovechkin put both hands to his head and screamed while he left the bench and skated into the thick of the Washington Capitals’ joyous celebration.
And right before Ovechkin hoisted the Stanley Cup, the Washington captain put both hands on his head again in a gesture of disbelieving ecstasy.
You can believe it, Ovi. So can the Washington fans whose championship drought is finally over. After striving through 13 of his franchise’s 43 seasons, the Russian superstar and the long-suffering Capitals are sitting on top of hockey for the very first time.
“It doesn’t matter what happened before,” Ovechkin said through his gap-toothed grin. “We just won it.”
Lars Eller scored the tiebreaking goal with 7:37 to play, and the Capitals claimed their first NHL title with a 4-3 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday night in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup final.
Ovechkin capped his playoff MVP campaign with an early power-play goal, and Devante Smith-Pelly tied it with a full-stretch goal midway through the final period of the Capitals’ fourth consecutive victory over the Golden Knights.
“We did it,” said Ovechkin, whose 15 playoff goals set a franchise record.
Vegas’ incredible expansion season finally ended, and so did the Capitals’ wait for a title since their debut in 1974.
But after so many years of crushing disappointment for a team with a lengthy history of postseason failure, these Caps confidently won their fourth consecutive closeout game with a tenacious third-period comeback in Vegas.
Ovechkin and his teammates are Washington’s first championship hockey team — and their city’s first champion in a major pro sport since the Redskins won the Super Bowl in 1992.
“It doesn’t come easy,” said goalkeeper Braden Holtby, who made 28 saves while outplaying three-time Stanley Cup champion Marc-Andre Fleury in the opposite net one last time.
“It took years. Years of heartbreak. Years of breaking things down and trying again, breaking things down and trying again, and this group never gave up. And we finally did it.”
After Ovechkin accepted the Conn Smythe Trophy, he received the Cup from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. Ovechkin shouted “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!” before skating away and hoisting the prize over his head for a victory lap in front of thousands of red-clad fans.
When a succession of teammates finally got the cup back to Ovi, he handed it to Ted Leonsis, the Caps’ owner since 1999.
“I’m so happy for the group that has gone through the misery,” said coach Barry Trotz, a first-time champ in his 19th season behind an NHL bench.
The Caps couldn’t win a cup without a little late weirdness, however: The game clock stopped working on the T-Mobile Arena scoreboards during the final minutes, and the Capitals angrily protested while they played on.
Vegas never got close to a tying goal despite both teams getting an extra chance to rest while the officials checked on the timing.
The clock finally hit zeros, allowing the Caps to storm the ice behind their net for a frenzied celebration.
The defeat ended the storybook inaugural season of the Golden Knights, who became the NHL’s 31st franchise last autumn and launched into arguably the greatest debut in modern pro sports history.
Few expected the division title they delivered, and fewer still thought Vegas could challenge for a championship.
Nate Schmidt and David Perron scored deflection goals for Vegas in the second period, while Reilly Smith scored a go-ahead goal late in the period for the Knights, but Fleury’s 29 saves included a stopped puck that dropped underneath him where Eller could sweep it home for the cup-winning goal.
“It means everything,” said Eller. “You couldn’t write the story better. If you’re going to win on the road, I couldn’t imagine a better place to do it.”
Forward TJ Oshie spent a moment in the celebration looking up for his father, Tim, who was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
“He doesn’t remember a lot of stuff, but he’s going to remember this,” said Oshie.
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