Alex Ovechkin had 14 years to think about what he would do if he finally got his hands on the Stanley Cup.
All he could muster when he first grabbed the elusive Cup was to hoist it above his head with both hands and let out a roar that seemed to unleash more than a decade of playoff frustration from his soul.
“This is even better (than I thought it would be),” said an emotional Ovechkin, who sat with the Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy as the postseason’s most valuable player at his side. “It’s just a dream. We’ve worked so hard. This means everything. I think we were waiting a long, long time for this moment.”
The Capitals scored twice in the third period to hand the Golden Knights a 4-3 defeat in Game 5 at T-Mobile Arena on Thursday night, closing out the best-of-seven series 4-1 and marking the first time Vegas had lost a postseason game in which it led after two periods.
The Capitals had never been out of the second round despite perennially finishing among the top teams in the regular season since Ovechkin was drafted first overall in 2004. That futility ended in hard-earned fashion, what with Washington winning its first championship as a franchise in a postseason in which it trailed in all four rounds.
“I’m so happy for the group and all the stuff they had to endure, all the things that were said about them, Ovi in particular,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. “To me, they changed all the narratives and checked every box. It was probably fitting we came from behind tonight.”
Ovechkin becomes the 16th player in league history to play at least 1,000 regular season games before winning his first Stanley Cup and only the second to do it with a team for which he played 1,000 games.
He is the first Russian-born player to captain a Stanley Cup champion. He’s also the first player from anywhere to lead the NHL in regular-season goals, postseason goals and win the Stanley Cup in the same season since Mike Bossy in 1981.
Ovechkin gave the Capitals a 2-1 lead with a power play goal in the second period, but it was some of his less heralded teammates who delivered the late heroics.
Devante Smith-Pelly settled a bouncing puck with his skate and dove to knock a shot past Marc-Andre Fleury to tie the game with 10:08 left in the third period.
It was the seventh postseason goal for Smith-Pelly, who scored seven times all regular season.
Lars Eller netted the game-winner 2:31 later when Fleury couldn’t locate a rebound that had snuck through his pads and was sitting on the ice behind him.
“Devo’s goal was huge, just a couple minutes before mine,” Eller said. “He’s been big all playoffs. To me there’s 22 stars here tonight that have all chipped in. And each one has been important and crucial to the success in each of their way.”
Goaltender Braden Holtby made the lead hold up once again, finishing with 28 saves.
“It’s definitely special just watching some of my teammates lift the Cup for the first time, guys that I’ve been with here for years and we went through so much heartbreak together, I’m so proud of them,” he said.
“It took years and 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.”
Then it was time to celebrate.
“It was like we were a bunch of 10 year olds that just won their first hockey tournament,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “It was like we were a bunch of little kids again.