There are two tiers for elite, superstar athletes.
Tier 1: Great player with a championship on their résumé.
Tier 2: Great player with no championships on their résumé.
For the first 12 years of his career, Alexander Ovechkin was a Tier 2 player. Now, in his 13th season, Ovechkin enters Tier 1 as the Washington Capitals won the first Stanley Cup in franchise history, 4-3 on Thursday night against the Las Vegas Golden Knights.
Ovechkin was always talked about amongst the all-time greats, but with one thing missing; a Stanley Cup. Now, all that talk is over. Not that his greatness didn’t mean anything, but on Thursday night every great achievement Ovi has accomplished seems verified.
The proverbial monkey is now off the back of not only Ovechkin, but also the entire Capitals franchise. Washington D.C. finally has a reason to celebrate and not hide behind postseason failures.
In previous postseason, Ovechkin took a lot of flak for not getting it done when it mattered the most. Some even dubbed him a great regular season player, but a lackluster player in the postseason. Not this season. Ovechkin proved why he is in the top-three player of the world discussion in a big way.
Ovi led the postseason in goals with 15 and he also led the regular season in goals with 49. He became the first player since 1980-81 to be the league-leader in both the regular and postseason goal category and win the Stanley Cup. He finished the postseason with 27 points, en route to winning the Conn Smythe Trophy, the postseason MVP.
He joins an elite list of players to have won at least three Hart Trophies (regular season MVP) and a Conn Smythe Trophy. The other three players? Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Bobby Orr. That is great company to be with.
The Capitals got contributions from a plethora of different players, as five different players recorded 20 or more points. Evgeny Kuznetsov led the entire postseason with 32 points, 20 of those leading the way in assists.
Braden Holtby did not enter the postseason as the starting net minder for Washington due to being shaky down the stretch of the regular season. Well it took less than two games for Holtby to enter the fray, as Philipp Grubauer allowed eight goals in 106 minutes. Holtby was saddled with the overtime loss in relief, but he would make up for it going forward.
Holtby finished the postseason with a 16-7 record, a 2.16 goals against average, and a .922 save percentage. In the past, Holtby was not good when it mattered the most, and he received his fair share of criticism for it. Like the entire team, there was something that wouldn’t allow Holtby to succumb to what has previously happened.
The key word to describe this Capitals team is resilient. In the first round, Washington dropped the first two games at home to Columbus and the doubts started to creep in. However, Washington did not get rattled and instead went on to win the next four games and the series, including three on the road.
Next up was a matchup with perennial playoff foe, the Pittsburgh Penguins, who have been a playoff demon for the Caps, including eliminating them in the last two season, which Pittsburgh went on to win the Cup both of those years.
After taking a loss in the first game of the series, many started to chirp yet again and questioned whether or not the Caps could exercise the playoff demons that was the Penguins. Washington responded strongly winning the next two before the Pens tied the series in Game 4. Washington again was not fazed and won the next two games, including the clincher in overtime, in Pittsburgh.
Kuznetsov was alone on a break-away and beat Penguins goalie Matt Murray five hole to vanquish the reigning, defending Stanley Cup Champions. That goal solidified the biggest win in franchise history up to that point. If Washington was ever going to win the Cup, it would only be fitting they would have to get past Pittsburgh, which they did this year.
In the Eastern Conference Finals, nobody was giving Washington a chance to beat the Tampa Bay Lightning. A lot of talk was that the Lightning would overpower the Caps, but Washington struck early going up 2-0 in Tampa Bay. Now, there was a different tone to the talks.
That was short-lived as Tampa Bay won the next three and had a chance to knock the Capitals out of the playoffs short of their goal. Yet, Washington was resilient yet again and did not panic. Instead, they won Game 6 at home 3-0 and went on to win Game 7 in Tampa Bay 4-0.
A chance at redemption.
The Stanley Cup Finals saw Washington for the first time since 1998 facing off against the expansion Las Vegas Golden Knight, a team nobody expected to be in this spot.
It was a rematch of team versus goalie as Marc-Andre Fleury, the Golden Knights net minder, used to be the Pittsburgh goaltender, which would stop Washington from advancing in the playoffs. Again, there was some negative talk of whether or not the Caps could now vanquish Fleury from the postseason. After a 6-4, Game 1 loss, Washington did not look back and went on to win the next four to claim Lord Stanley’s Cup.
Washington trailed 3-2 after two periods. Entering the game, Vegas was 10-0 with a lead after the second period of play while Washington had two wins while trailing entering the third, which was the most this postseason. The Caps prevailed out in the desert and now they are the champions.
Road warriors is another way to describe this team, along with resilient, which if you want to win on the road in the postseason, you have to be resilient. Washington finished with a 10-3 road record during the playoffs. 10 of their 16 wins came on the road. That is incredible.
Ovechkin’s quest for immortality was cemented on Thursday night. He is no longer one of the best players of all-time without a championship, he is simply just one of the best. He is the best goal scorer of his era and now he has the most important piece to his career puzzle.
Washington was able to redeem all the past playoff failures and even exercised the demon that was the Pittsburgh Penguins. Nobody gave them much of a chance all season long and even more so as the playoffs began and progressed. The pressure wasn’t too much and the stars aligned for the franchise to hoist the Stanley Cup for the first time ever.
Congratulations to Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals on a fantastic season.