The game was little but chaos and drama.
It probably couldn’t have happened any other way. Not with these two teams, not in these circumstances.
For all the storyline-ing we’ve seen about both clubs in the past few months, to have had the series end in just five games, most of them fairly decisive, would have felt like the fans had been robbed of something. Like a Game of Thrones season where everyone important dies in episode 3 and everyone else just kind of stands around like, “Huh, what do we do now?” for another seven hours.
Fortunately, there was simply no way these two clubs, with these two particular collections of players, under this kind of scrutiny, were going to let Game 5 be a bore or a stinker.
No one could gain any kind of real purchase one way or the other in the first period and not much happened, sure. But from the second period on, it was unhinged in a way that kind of made sense.
On the one hand you had a Washington team that would be likely to play conservative for a game in which it could clinch the first Cup in team history and immediately erase something like 13 years of bad memories and playoff failures. The fact that they’d outscored Vegas by a combined 12-5 in the previous three games, all wins, might have given them even more of that “calm confidence” you heard talked about so much.
So when Deryk Engelland of all people jumped up in the play, missed the net, and inadvertently sprang Jakub Vrana for one of those goofy breakaways, it would have made sense if you got that old, familiar feeling.
When Ovechkin scored 70 seconds into the second period in Game 3, that inexplicably felt like plenty. Ditto Tom Wilson’s goal late in the first period of Game 4.
Now, though, back in Vegas there was the feeling that one weird goal might not have done it for you. That Nate Schmidt converted a bad bounce into a Vegas power play goal therefore felt fairly appropriate; this had been the Golden Knights’ bread and butter pretty much all season, and yes it had completely evaporated like a sidewalk puddle in the Vegas sun for a few games.
Vegas scoring about three minutes after giving up a goal? Hey, the “resilience” mill always needs more grist.
But then Alex Ovechkin drew a penalty on the following shift, then scored 24 seconds into the ensuing power play, that actually did feel like it! The completion of the saga, in a way. Not only did Ovechkin play well — and boy he was dialed in from the opening puck drop — but he drew the penalty and scored. You could hear the nightclubs on the strip getting out some tarps to put down for the ensuing party.
So when Vegas scored through another goofy bounce, maybe you felt as though the script had flipped back the other way. Christian Djoos got into an ill-advised shoving match with David Perron in the crease, and Perron actually kicked Braden Holtby’s leg out from under him as a Tomas Tatar shot went in. The goal was credited to Perron in the end, which is more of that Vegas magic, right? Perron had scored just one goal in his previous 47 — FORTY-SEVEN — playoff games, somehow, and had been a healthy scratch in the previous game. Of course he scored the bounce-back goal.
Another power play goal (on an Ovechkin penalty, no less) put Vegas up 3-2 just before the close of the second period, and that’s when things got well and truly interesting.
Bonkers saves. Bonkers goals. Bonkers goalscorers. A bonkers flub by Fleury. (Call that payback for all those Caps second-round bow-outs to teams with Fleury on them.) In the end, a bonkers comeback that would have been inconceivable to most hockey people even 10 days ago, let alone at the start of the season. Vegas? Blowing a third-period lead? At home? Against WASHINGTON? The producers of “A.I.” didn’t come up with an ending that confounding.
But after all this, why not, right? Vegas was trying real hard to wring 20 minutes of goalless hockey from this game, and that probably wasn’t the best bet against a Caps team that had been scoring for fun for a pretty big chunk of the last week. Devante Smith-Pelly again on a wacky set of bounces, then Lars Eller, who just had a phenomenal series and deserves a ton of praise for getting the Caps to the promised land.
And hell, just because this game couldn’t possibly have been any weirder, why not have the official clock get stuck for a good 45 seconds so no one in the rink or watching on TV knows what kind of time is left on the clock? They don’t have a lot of clocks in Vegas for a reason, I guess.
There will be plenty of time to ruminate on what this all means for Ovechkin’s capital-L Legacy but suffice it to say he’s bulletproof now. He scored in three of the five games in this series. He assisted on the game-winner in another. He assisted on another in his team’s only loss in the series. And for the love of Boudreau, this Capitals team is one of the absolute worst he’s ever played for. They got here largely because Ovechkin went into god mode for four rounds. They won 10 of their 16 games in this postseason away in just 13 tries from home, and Ovechkin had 10-8-18 in those. He deserved every single one of those Conn Smythe votes, and that trophy case is aaaaawful crowded.
For all you might have been able to say against him if you really wanted to unfairly contort yourself at this point in his career, “perennial loser” might have been at the very top of the list. No more, and out of all the calamity in this game, that crap being banished to hockey’s Phantom Zone forever is maybe the only thing that makes sense.
Hard not to be happy for people with this result. Ovechkin, vindicated. Holtby, vindicated. Backstrom, vindicated. Trotz, vindicated. A fanbase whose nerves had to be beyond addled, especially as the Caps white-knuckled the last two and a half minutes, finally relieved. All the heartbreak, all the inexplicable losses, gone in an instant.
The Capitals — the WASHINGTON Capitals! — the ones with Alex Ovechkin! — won the Stanley Cup. Against a first-year team that went from a buzzsaw to roadkill in just five games. Yeah, why would anything make sense anymore?
All stats via Corsica unless otherwise noted.