After what seems like years of epic battles between the two, the Washington Capitals have beaten the Pittsburgh Penguins in game 6 to advance to the Western Conference finals.
Despite their reputation as one of the most exciting, attacking teams in the NHL, the Capitals have always fallen short. So often it seems it’s been the Pittsburgh Penguins putting them out of the playoffs. This year, the caps finally had the final word in a rivalry that has been building for years.
The last two years have ended at this stage for the Caps, both against the Penguins. Both painful 4-2 losses. And on each occasion the Penguins have gone on to lift the Stanley Cup. The first team in 20 years to repeat, did so by despatching the Capitals along the way.
The losses stung the Capitals, and they began to carry them with them throughout the season. Always the team that would buckle under the hotter lights of the playoffs. Alex Ovechkin, a generational talent, one of the greatest scorers of all-time couldn’t make it to the Conference finals. The pressure was bigger this season. But so were the Capitals.
Capitals Tested Early In Series
Things started so well for Washington in game 1, it seemed the past was well and truly forgotten. An early first-period goal, and another early in the third had them looking good for the win. But within 10 minutes, the Penguins had completed the comeback and skated to a hard-fought win.
If ever there was a time you could expect the Capitals to fold it was heading into game 2. All the questions had resurfaced, and the fans had that tentative feel. Once again the Caps pulled out a 2-0 lead, but this time there was no comeback. A 32 save night for Holtby and the first star, and two more goals gave the Caps a comfortable win. The next two games were shared, but it was clear the Capitals were a different team from past seasons.
Another comfortable win in game 5 left the Capitals on the edge of revenge, and the two-time defending champs facing elimination.
Caps Finally Close A Series Against Penguins
A tight, gritty, first period in Pittsburgh may not have been exactly what the Capitals had been hoping for. But Chiasson’s opening goal, and first of the playoffs, 2:13 into the second period was. But this was never going to be another runaway win. The Penguins are defending champs for a reason, and Kris Letang leveled on 11:52 with his third of the playoffs.
The tension mounted throughout the rest of regulation, and the game headed inexorably towards sudden death. But there was to be no let down for the Caps this year. Kuznetsov’s poke check freed the puck from Sidney Crosby, and the rush was on. Kuznetsov finishing the move from a pass from Ovechkin. And the 20-year wait for an Eastern Conference finals was finally over.
“It’s almost embarrassing that it’s taken this long for us to get past it. But the Penguins are an unbelievable franchise. It’s an unbelievable team.”
Washington owner Ted Leonsis
The capitals will now face the Tampa Bay Lightning, and despite their impressive series win, will likely be underdogs. The Lightning have been one of the best teams in the league behind the stellar play of Nikita Kucherov. It promises to be a high-scoring series. Whatever happens the Caps have at least laid one ghost to rest.