Alex Ovechkin has played in plenty of games during his illustrious NHL career—1,003 in the regular season and 116 in the playoffs, to be exact. Never had he played in one as monumental as Wednesday night’s Game 7 against the Tampa Bay Lightning. A win would send Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in his 13-year career.
Knowing a loss would haunt him for however much longer the 32-year-old decides to play, Ovechkin got some help in the form of two goals from forward Andre Burakovsky and a 29-save effort from goalie Braden Holtby to lead the Capitals to a 4-0 win and into the franchise’s first Cup Final since 1998.
Washington will play the Golden Knights for the Stanley Cup starting on Monday, May 28 in Las Vegas.
“It’s… unbelievable,” Ovechkin told NBC’s Pierre McGuire after the final buzzer. :I can’t explain my emotions. I’m just happy for my boys, for the organization, for the fans. Finally. I can’t wait to come back home and play at home for Stanley Cup final. It’s going to be nuts over there.”
Ovechkin put his stamp on the game as early as he could, getting some help from Tom Wilson—who also made quite an impression on the game in the first period—forced a turnover in the neutral zone, and Ovechkin buried a one-timer from above the left circle moments later to give the Capitals a 1-0 lead 1:02 into the matchup.
Though Ovechkin was certainly one of the biggest storylines heading into Game 7, his goal wasn’t the highlight of the first 20 minutes. After the Caps’ captain nearly scored a second goal, everyone on the ice got tangled up around Lightning netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy. Caps center Evgeny Kuznetsov lost his jersey and Wilson didn’t react kindly when Braydon Coburn tossed it onto the ice.
When Wilson and Coburn hopped out of the box after their respective two-minute minors, they immediately dropped their gloves and threw hands. Advantage: Wilson. He landed tons of rights on Coburn, and it was the Capitals who capitalized on the energy a fight generally brings to a game.
“He ripped the jersey right off one of our guy’s backs, so I think that’s pretty obvious, you gotta do that,” Wilson said to McGuire about the tilt. “Gamesmanship. He’s a battler and you do what you gotta do in this game.”
Washington seemed to want it more than its opposition from that point on, and one player in particular proved that to be true: Burakovsky netted two semi-breakaway goals in the second period, which sent Tampa Bay scattering to the locker room to a smattering of boos from the home fans at Amalie Arena as the Lightning faced a three-goal deficit after 40 minutes.
With their season hanging in the balance, the Bolts came out for the third without any jolts of vitality. Tampa Bay didn’t generate a single shot on goal during the first half of the frame, even failing to do so on a power play early in the period. Tampa Bay’s number of shots on net matched the level of exuberance in the building.
Time continued to dwindle, but the Lightning couldn’t rise to the occasion. Ovechkin’s early goal, coupled with Wilson’s bouts of energy, set the tone for the remainder of the game. Burakovsky added insurance with his pair of tallies in the second and Nicklas Backstrom added an empty-netter late in the third to seal Washington’s win and its first berth in the Cup Final in two decades.