PITTSBURGH – Hockey can be a fun, random game that makes no sense in a particular night or season. Results are sometimes prone to luck, or a shot, or a jump or a mistake, or a game maybe more than any other great sport. That's just the nature of the game. Sometimes you are great and you lose. Sometimes you are just average and you win. This randomness can also make the game extremely frustrating, and no great team – and they were a great team – has been more on the wrong side than the Washington Capitals for the last decade.
It almost always happens in the same round (the second) and against the same team (the Pittsburgh Penguins) every year.
On Monday night in Pittsburgh, after years of torment and grief, the capitals finally ̵
Evgeny Kuznetsov's goal in the 5:27 points of extra time brought the Capitals to a 2-1 win in Game 6, sending them for the first time since 1998 and for the first time in the Eastern Conference Final in the era of Alex Ovechkin / Barry defiance (or any coach that Ovechkin had).
[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]
It would be an understatement to say that in the locker rooms of capitals, relief and elation prevailed.
It's not just Ovechkins and Trotz's first trip to the conference finale as a duo, it's also the first journey of defiance in his 19th year as an NHL coach. Not being able to overcome this obstacle was an obvious thorn in the face of an organization that has been among the best in the league for more than a decade. Finishing three times with the league's best record in 10 years is a big achievement. Alex Ovechkin is one of the biggest players the league has ever seen and has consistently played for them in every situation. It's also worth something (much, actually). But because they did not have that one season when everything worked together for them at the right time of the year, the results were always the same.
When big players and great teams are getting tight Never shake the label, the choker label or the label you want to put on the market, whether it's fair or not. And it's almost never fair.
"Oh, absolutely," said Trotz, when asked if he ever had any kind of kinship with his players when it came to achieving the same result in the playoffs at the same time every year, and how it felt to finally get over this hump.
"It's sometimes so hard to get ahead of you, it's always thrown in your face when you turn around, I know it's all over Ovis face when it turns, it's a great player in this league. This league is a tough league, I think we're only the team in the last few years to get into the second round [every year]even the penguins did not do it and they won a few trophies, it's a tough one League to get there, I knew the frustration because you're so close and you just can not understand it, you just have to stick with it, there's a kinship, there's no question for this whole group, back flow, Ovi, me All. "
What makes everything so surprising This season is that it is the Capitals team that has made the next big step for the organization. That it is the Main Team Team that could eventually be the one.
There were probably better home team teams than these, both in terms of the list on paper and the results on the ice during an 82-game season. Some of the Presidents trophy teams come to mind, and there were times this season that looked like the Capitals on their way to the third consecutive title, maybe just not as good as their record.
But sometimes hockey is funny too. And where better Capitals teams met a hot goalkeeper or had no little puck luck on their side or did not have the depths around Ovechkin and Backstrom, it all seems to have happened in their favor.
Braden Holtby was a world-class goalkeeper for six years. He has won a Vezina Trophy, finished second in another year and has played these playoffs with the second-best save percentage in the NHL playoff history. But as great as he was, there was always a goalkeeper in this one series that always seemed to be just a little bit more on his head. Three years ago, it was Henrik Lundqvist. It was Matt Murray two years ago. It was Marc-Andre Fleury last year when he literally stole the series from a Capitals team that was likely to lead the game through the seven game series.
This year it was Holtby who got the best of his counterpart Was a big difference in the series. Maybe the difference
He did so after the start of the playoffs on the bench in the first round. Since returning to the lineup, he is 8-2 with a .926 save percentage. There have been many playoff series in the past where he posted better numbers and somehow was still on the wrong side of it.
In earlier matches with Pittsburgh, Sidney Crosby and Ovechkin They would seem to face goal-to-goal and point-to-point, just because the depth-players of the penguins make the difference.
This year, it was the capitals that had reached the depth rating. [19659002Thiscanbeattributedtomanyofthedeficienciesthathavetraditionallybeenlostinthepastsuchastheaforementionedgoalkeepingdramatoopentheplayoffsorinjuries
The Stanley Cup playoffs can sometimes be a war of attrition, winning not only the best team but also the healthiest team. The capitals went into match 6 in Pittsburgh on Monday night without half of their top six. Tom Wilson was sitting for a suspension. Andre Burakovsky has not played since game 2 of the first round. Then, the most damaging loss of them all came less than an hour before the match, when it became known that Nicklas Backstrom would not play due to a chest injury.
The stage seemed to be ready for the Penguins to take advantage of the series and return to Washington for another Game 7, where everything could have happened.
Then the capitals came out and shut down the penguins completely, leaving a back-to-back champion who faced only 22 shots on home ice restricted to 65 minutes of hockey.
"I do not think anyone would play us without him tonight, then with two other top six who are not playing," striker Lars Eller said when asked about the absence of Backstrom.
"It's just a lot better with three top six boys, it tells us how deep we are and what this group is all about, it's great, it's just telling how this group has been battling through these adversities, because we have experienced some adversity without these guys. "
Without Backstrom (and Wilson and Burakovsky), Eller said that the capitals were not really trying to do anything else, but they just had to make sure they were in the right attitude and that everyone was ready to do something more.
"You're trying to keep the same mentality, but just knowing that you're going to play some more for a few minutes," said Eller, "it takes a little more of each, and if you have the right people and have the right attitude and attitude, you can do it, and we've done it. People appeared. Our guys in the fourth row, [Nathan] Walker comes in, [Alex] Chiasson with a big goal, [Travis] Boyd came in after loading, I do not know how long, they all played great in the toughest environment. Pittsburgh, Game 6, it does not get much bigger and they have treated themselves incredibly well. It was great to be a part of it. "
For years, the Joe San Thornton and Patrick Marleau San Jose Sharks in the NHL have been the" so near but impractical "team, and they have been carrying this label through the postseason for more than a decade after everyone seems to have given up that they've ever made it to the Stanley Cup final, they finally did it two years ago, maybe it did not lead to a win, but it was still a big achievement and a big step forward for an organization that has not made it yet After years of premature exits in the first and second rounds, there was a point everyone was wondering if the penguins in the Crosby Evgeni Malkin era would ever get another Stanley Cup, when it seemed they were Window slammed, they won two in a row.
This, after all, seemed to be the year in which the capitals reached the point where all but their organization and fan base moved to J had given up on "this is the year" ended with the same result. Now they are in the Eastern Conference Final after defeating their long-time nemesis.
Considering what this team did in previous seasons, and given the way some of their top players played both in the regular season and in the playoffs I can not say they did not deserve it ,
The truth is that they probably earned it long before this season. But that's not the way hockey works.
Sometimes you just never really know when all the forces will be in your favor.
After years of "this is the year," proclamations go blank, this could actually be one.
Especially after the second round and the penguins, as they did.
Adam Gretz is an author for Pro Hockey Talk at NBC Sports . Write him a message at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz .