2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs - Round 1
Unlike 2016 and 2017 when they won the President's trophy, the Capitals were not the favorites going into the 2018 playoffs. Although they won the Metropolitan Division, they finished 4th in the conference. They got off to a very slow start losing both games 1 and 2 on home ice to the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Capitals had a two-goal lead in both games 1 and 2 and managed to lose both games in overtime. After game 2, Alex Ovechkin made the following statement: "It’s going to be fun when we bounce back and we going to tie the series and come back here and play Game 5 at home."
In game 3, once again, the Capitals took the lead early and held a one goal advantage going into the third period in a game they desparately needed to win. In order to avoid going down 3 games to none, they needed to hold on for twenty minutes. Then, four minutes into the third period, Artemi Panarin scored on a 2-on-1 with Cam Atkinson and the game was tied. The Capitals now were at one of their lowest points of the season, having lost a third period lead three games in a row. Like the previous two, this game would require overtime to decide it. And then, everything changed nine minutes into the second overtime. Brett Connolly fired a shot from the left circle on a 3-on-2 break. Bobrovsky blocked the shot and the rebound came right to Columbus defenseman Zach Werenski. Werenski tried to clear the puck from the crease, but it hit Lars Eller's knee, came right back and hit Werenski's leg and bounced past Bobrovsky to end the game and change the Capitals fortunes for the rest of the 2018 Playoffs.
Game 4 was similar to the first three in that the Capitals took an early lead, however they would not relinquish the lead in this one. Evgeny Kuznetsov dominated game 4 - collecting the primary assist on the first three Capitals goals and adding one of his own to seal a 4-1 win and send the Caps back home with the series tied, just as their captain had predicted. An overtime win at home in game 5 and a 6-3 rout in game 6 sent the Capitals on to round 2.
2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs - Round 2
The Caps and Penguins split the first 4 games of the series with each winning once at home and once on the road. The Capitals were down 3-2 going into the third period of game 5, but Evgeny Kuznetsov came up with a huge goal just 52 seconds into the third to tie it and Jakub Vrana got the game winner with less than 5 minutes to play. Game 6 proved to be just as close as each team scored only once during regulation time. Up to this point the Capitals were 1-9 in games where they had a chance to eliminate the Penguins from the playoffs. But, once again, this year would be different. At 5:27 of overtime, Evgeny Kuznetsov changed everything! Alex Ovechkin grabbed a loose puck at center ice and found Kuznetsov slipping behind the defense. Kuzy deked to the left and, as Matt Murray slid across the crease, he tucked the puck in under Murray's legs and the Capitals advanced to the conference finals for the first time in 20 years.
2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs - Conference Finals
Next up was the number 1 seed Tampa Bay Lightning. However, it was the Capitals who clearly were the better team in games 1 and 2 winning 4-2 and 6-2 in Tampa. Games 3 and 4 were much closer and Tampa escaped with wins in each game. Tampa won game 5 at home and it looked like the Capitals were about to fade away. Facing elimination at home, they put together one of the best games of their season, but they still only held a 1-0 advantage midway through the third period. On a routine dump in, Chandler Stephenson outraced Brayden Coburn to negate the icing and then found Devante Smith-Pelly streaking toward the net. Smith-Pelly's one-timer gave the Caps a two-goal lead and Braden Holtby did the rest. He stopped all 24 shots he faced in the game and the Caps were even at three games a piece. Ovechkin scored just over a minute into game 7, but Tampa pushed back hard for the next period and a half. Braden Holtby stopped everything the Lightning could put on net and then Andre Burakovsky scored not one but two goals in the second period and Capitals coasted into the Stanley Cup Finals.
2018 Stanley Cup Finals
Going into the Finals, the Vegas Golden Knights had only lost 2 games in the entire playoffs, dominating all three of their playoff series. Game 1 was a wild, back-and-forth game with only two penalties called on each team. Both sides had tons of scoring chances, but Vegas got the better of the chances and was also able to convert on one of their power plays to come away with a 6-4 win. Both teams were more disciplined in Game 2 even though more penalties were called. The Caps scored on one of their six power plays early in the second and a goal by Brooks Orpik just a few minutes later gave the Caps a 3-1 lead. Vegas cut it to 3-2 late in the second and then with just two minutes left in the third, Alex Tuch took a pass and was about to tie the game with a wide-open net in front of him, but Braden Holtby was able to dive across the goal and get the handle of his stick in front of the puck and then stop it with the inside of his blocker to preserve a 3-2 win.
The Caps outplayed Vegas again in Game 3 but only held a 2-1 lead midway through the third until Devante Smith-Pelly took a pass from Jay Beagle and put a wrister right under the bar past Fleury. The score of Game 4 mimicked the play on the ice as Washington built a commanding 4-0 lead and then when Vegas began to make it interesting at 4-2, T.J. Oshie laid a devastating reverse hit on Colin Miller to create space for Nicklas Backstrom to take the puck and find Michal Kempny wide open on the opposite side of the ice. Fleury had no chance on Kempny's one-timer and the Caps took a 3-1 series lead back to Vegas for Game 5.
Game 5 was much more even than the previous two and after 20 minutes, neither team had been able to score. Six and a half minutes into period two, Brayden McNabb came deep into the Caps zone to take a shot, but the puck missed the net and came around to Kuznetsov and eventually Ovechkin found Vrana in all alone and the Caps were up 1-0. Vegas came back with a goal three minutes later, but then Alex Ovechkin gave the Caps another lead with a classic one-timer on an amazing saucer pass from Nicklas Backstrom just 34 seconds after that. The lead wouldn't last long as Vegas scored at 12:56 and then again at 19:31 of the second to take a 3-2 lead into the third. Games 3 and 4 had taken a lot out of Vegas, but with a lead going into the third, it seemed as if they were in command of Game 5. The Caps got a few good opportunities to score early in the third. Then, on a routine dump-in with 10:20 left, Smith-Pelly's forecheck prevented Luca Sbisa from getting the puck over to Colin Miller. This allowed Orpik to pinch in and keep the puck in the zone. Orpik quickly fired the puck at the net, but Smith-Pelly stopped it with his skate and as he was getting tripped by a Vegas defender, he put a diving shot past Fleury to tie it up. The momentum Vegas had built up in the second, was now gone and the Caps looked as if nothing was going to stop them from winning the cup on this night. Sure enough, two and a half minutes later, Burakovsky found Connolly in the slot for a one-timer. Fleury made the save but the puck trickled behind him. Lars Eller, coming from behind the net, put it in for what would be the Stanley Cup winning goal!