The road of the redemption.
The dream of the unprecedented Stanley Cup is alive for the Washington Capitals. They exorcised the elimination ghost after Evgeny Kuznetsov scored the OT goal to clinch the Eastern Conference Finals berth in six games, beating the archrival Pittsburgh Penguins. After three consecutive eliminations in Round Two of the Playoffs (in 2015 against the NY Rangers, and in 2016 and 2017 against the same Penguins) the Capitals saw their roster full of great players (Schmidt, Johansson, Williams) fade away with trades as they faced an era of uncertainty in the 2017-18 season. The Caps defensive play was one area of great concern during the first half of the regular season. Many people said that the “window” had closed for the Cup. Moreover, goalkeeper Braden Holtby struggled at times when his performance didn’t match that of his talent as the Vezina Trophy winner in the 2015-16 season.
As the Caps watched their rivals preparing themselves, bringing quality names to reinforce their teams, the Capitals didn’t bring anyone new before the trade deadline. Although they won the Metropolitan Division title for the third consecutive time and, consequently, secured home ice for the first two rounds of the playoffs, Washington wasn’t seen as one of the favorites.
The Caps started losing the first series to the Columbus Blue Jackets 2-0, including games one and two at home. Due to Braden Holtby’s inconsistent performance, during the regular season, Philipp Grubauer was chosen by coach Barry Trotz as the starting goaltender. The position was taken back by HoltBeast again after the big setback of two losses. Captain Alex Ovechkin said the Capitals would bring the series back to Washington tied and they fulfilled his promise. The Caps won all four of the following games to win the series in six games.
With the victory in Round One, the iconic rivalry between Capitals and Penguins began a new chapter. Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby came face-to-face again. The Caps lost Game one but won games two and three, the latter away from home. They watched Penguins draw the series by 2-2 in Game four but they had got a huge victory of 6-3 in Game five, in front of their passionate fans, to retake the lead in the series. Game Six was tense, with Alex Chiasson opening the board, but being answered by the archrival yet in the same second period, with Kris Letang making it even again. After a third period of great nervousness, the game went to OT.
Alex Ovechkin gave a great backhand pass to compatriot Evgeny Kuznetsov, who silenced PPG Paints Arena and secured Caps in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Even without three big names for the Caps: Andre Burakovsky (injury), Tom Wilson (suspended) and Nick Backstrom (injury), the victory was one of those that washed the sou lwith emotions that only hockey provides.
Since 1998, the Capitals didn’t know what it was like to arrive in the conference finals, when they were champions that year after beating the Buffalo Sabers, but lost the Stanley Cup when swept by the Detroit Red Wings. Thus, it’s been the first time in the Ovechkin Era that the Caps passed from Round Two, which gave them their redemption by eliminating an archrival, to whom they hadn’t won a series against since 1994.
The Capitals face the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Bolts have been a strong team in the Playoffs, as well as during the regular season. With this round, the Capitals no longer have the home ice advantage. Game One will be on Friday, May 11. Here is the full schedule:
Can the so-called “underdogs” at the start of these Playoffs handle this new challenge? The 2017-18 season has been one of great resilience for the Washington Capitals. Now, it may be the year of an even greater redemption.
WE WANT THE CUP!
Photos by FiCP and The Washington Capitals