LAS VEGAS -- They say what happens in Vegas stays here but the Washington Capitals will gladly dispute that point. (Minus the clubbing with the Stanley Cup they did into the wee hours of Friday morning at the MGM Grand.)
The Capitals took the Cup home to DC on Friday after lifting it for the first time in their 43-year history with Thursday night's 4-3 win over the Vegas Golden Knights in T-Mobile Arena. They won the series, four games to one, becoming the first road team to capture a clincher in Game 5 since the 1990 Edmonton Oilers won in Boston.
Here are five takeaways from the dramatic finish to the 2017-18 season:
Ovi gets his day
Alex Ovechkin won his first Stanley Cup at age 32, and joined Detroit's Steve Yzerman as the only players in history to finally win a Cup after playing their first 1,000-plus games with the same team. He's so revered that after the win, his teammates talked as much about what it meant to him as what it meant to the 43-year-old franchise.
"If you watched the reaction of his teammates when he got the Cup, I think speaks volumes about how guys feel about him," said veteran defenseman Brooks Orpik, the former East Amherst resident who won for the second time in his career (Pittsburgh, 2009). "He’s a very unique captain and you’ll probably never find another guy like him. He leads in a very unique way. But he definitely pulls guys into the fight.’’
Now that Ovi has his Cup, who's on the clock now?
Patrick Marleau of the Leafs is the active leader in games played without a Cup at 1,575 and former San Jose teammate Joe Thornton is at 1,493. Among star players, San Jose defenseman Brent Burns is at 961 and Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos is at 664. By the time next season's playoffs end, Marleau and Thornton will both be 39, Burns will be 34 and Stamkos will be 29. The league is getting younger and younger. Their time is wasting.
When the Blackhawks won the Cup in 2010 in front of Antti Niemi and the Flyers spent back-to-back years going through the playoffs with a three-headed monster, the narrative was that the need to have a dominant goalie was over. Those thoughts are clearly foolish now in the wake of two Cups apiece won since 2012 by Los Angeles' Jonathan Quick, Chicago's Corey Crawford and Pittsburgh's Matt Murray, and the stellar performance of Washington's Brayden Holtby this spring.
Benched due to a late-season slump for the first two games of the opening round, Holtby came back strong and led the Capitals to the promised land for the first time. Vegas got to the final in large part because of the stellar work of Marc-Andre Fleury, but he struggled badly in the final with a 4.10 goals-against average and .853 save percentage. Those are particularly grievous numbers when compared to Holtby's.
Holtby was at 2.61/.916 for the series -- but 2.00/.934 over the final four games after Vegas won the opener, 6-4. His paddle save on Alex Tuch in the final two minutes of Game 2 prevented overtime and perhaps a 2-0 Vegas lead in the series. It's the kind of play that can turn a series around.
Meanwhile, Fleury couldn't protect a one-goal lead in the third period of Game 5, and the Cup-winning goal by Lars Eller was particularly grievous as Fleury let a simple shot from Brett Connolly leak through his pads.
Depth, depth, depth
Who plays goal is one of Sabres' GM Jason Botterill's big dilemmas going forward. But this is another: Cup teams roll four lines and three defense pairs. They don't have any black holes in their lineup and even players who don't contribute a lot find a way to be heard at crunch time.
Caps fourth-line winger Devante Smith-Pelly had seven goals in 75 games in the regular season. He had seven in 24 games in the postseason -- scoring in each of the final three games, including the tying goal in Game 5. Third-line center Eller scored the Cup-winning goal.
Knight Time is finally over
Vegas' inaugural season will have a ripple effect through the NHL for many years. The Knights' first-year success instantly makes the job as GM of a potential franchise in Seattle the toughest in the league because how can anyone replicate what George McPhee did in his expansion year here? The Knights didn't have superstars but rolled four lines and three defense pairs in winning 13 of their first 16 playoff games before finally getting choked off by the the Caps' puck pressure in the neutral zone.
Rival coaches and GMs have to be nervous that ownership, fans and media will no longer accept patient rebuilds in the wake of Vegas' instant success. You wonder if it leads to more trades this year around the draft.
Vegas' game presentation is unmatched in the NHL and became the envy of the league. The team's logo and merchandise are marketing gold and the opulent arena instantly became one of the best in the league.
"They've done an extraordinary job. We're in the entertainment business and sometimes you forget about that," said Washington coach Barry Trotz. "We're in sports and entertainment. What Vegas has done is the gold standard."
Still, this team was about more than just its on-ice performance. It served its city in time of need after the Oct. 1 shootings that left 58 dead. It created a new hockey market, with children learning to skate and play at a shimmering new practice facility.
"You can look back and be pretty proud of the group in here and what they've done getting into this community and the city after what happened," said defenseman Deryk Engelland, the longtime Vegas resident who gave the emotional "Vegas Strong" speech the night of the home opener. "Everyone had us pegged to not make the playoffs. To be standing here today, as bad as it feels, you've got to be proud of the group."