The Washington Capitals will play for the Stanley Cup after defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-0 in the decisive Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals.
The Capitals will now advance to take on the expansion Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Final, with both teams standing just four wins away from lifting one of the most famous trophies in all of sports.
Capitals Crash through Postseason Wall
The win was especially sweet considering Washington�s recent history of playoff struggles. The team and its star, Alex Ovechkin, had been dogged by a reputation for choking in the playoffs, a past that they now might be able to put behind them.
Since Ovechkin joined the team in 2005, Washington has never been beyond the second round of the NHL playoffs. Even before then, the team had suffered its share of postseason misery: even after their win on Wednesday night, the Capitals are still just 5-11 all time in Game 7s.
This marks only the second time Washington has reached the Stanley Cup Final. In their only other appearance, which came in 1998, the Capitals were swept by the Detroit Red Wings.
It was Ovechkin who put his team on the path to victory. The Russian winger scored just 1:02 into the first period to give the Capitals a 1-0 lead.
�The first goal was very important,� Ovechkin told reporters. �After that you could see we have all the momentum on our side.�
While Ovechkin�s goal was a fitting way for the team captain to lift his team, two other players may have played even bigger roles in the victory. �Winer Andre Burakovsky scored twice in the second period to all but put the game out of reach. Meanwhile, goaltender Branden Holtby saved 29 shots to post his second straight shutout to close out the Lightning.
�I�m happy for the fans because they�ve been through some tough times with us and teams of the past,� winger TJ Oshie said after the win.
Golden Knights Favored in Final
The final challenge for the Capitals will be overcoming the Vegas Golden Knights, a team trying to make history of their own. Vegas is looking to pull off the incredible feat of winning the Stanley Cup as a first-year expansion team. But it�s been a long time since teams have felt like they could look past the Golden Knights, and Washington certainly isn�t going to take them lightly.
�It�s a great story,� Capitals coach Barry Trotz said of the Golden Knights. �They�re a good hockey team, they have a lot of good players, players from other teams. I know a lot of people say we didn�t want those players, but we all did.�
While Vegas may have been the ultimate underdog heading into the season, they now enter the Stanley Cup Finals as the favorites to win a championship. Bookmaker Betfred has installed the Golden Knights as a 4/6 choice to win the Stanley Cup, with the Capitals a slight underdog at 6/5.
The odds won�t bother Washington, as the team is ready to bury their history of playoff failure once and for all.
�We�ve been waiting a long time for this,� center Nicklas Backstrom told reporters after the game. �Now we�re in the finals and we�re going to do everything we can to do something special here for us, for the team and for the city.�