Capitals on brink of first Cup win as Vegas eyes a miracle

Washington Capitals right wing Devante Smith-Pelly (25) celebrates after scoring a goal against the Vegas Golden Knights in the first period in game four of the 2018 Stanley Cup Final at Capital One Arena. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY SportsOne more win is all that stands between Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals finally ascending hockey’s highest peak and capturing the Stanley Cup that has eluded them for decades. Washington defeated the Vegas Golden Knights 6-2 at home on Monday to take a commanding 3-1 lead in the Final, but after years of postseason disappointment, the Capitals can’t take anything for granted.

Teams leading 3-1 in the Stanley Cup Final have gone on to win the series the last 31 consecutive times, which bodes well for a Washington team more used to being on the other side of the odds. The Capitals have been one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference since 2008, but they were never able to make it past the second round of the playoffs, gaining a reputation as postseason chokers. Monday’s victory was the latest and most definitive move towards Washington discarding that reputation. The Capitals won Game 4 by a lopsided margin despite being outshot, outhit, and outworked in the faceoff circle, prevailing in the sort of game that would have sunk them in past postseasons.

Washington’s newfound luck was apparent early in the contest when Golden Knights forward James Neal hit the post on a wide-open net on what would have otherwise been the game’s first goal. The Capitals scored shortly after to begin a run of three goals in the period and never really gave Vegas a chance to get back into the game, maintaining at least a two-goal lead over the remaining two periods. Evgeny Kuznetsov assisted on four of Washington’s six goals, extending his team scoring lead to five points over Ovechkin.

If the Capitals are able to complete the series victory, the likely favourites for the Conn Smythe trophy as playoff MVP would be Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, defenseman John Carlson, and goaltender Braden Holtby, all of whom have played key roles in getting Washington to this point. Ovechkin, who is the team’s captain and leading goal-scorer, appears to be the consensus favourite, and a Cup win would carry the added weight of legitimizing his incredible career as one of hockey’s greatest pure scorers. But in order to do that, the Capitals must solve Vegas once more.

The Golden Knights have made their entire expansion season about upending expectations and rewriting history, so an unlikely comeback from 3-1 down in the Cup Final almost seems like a normal route to victory for them. Their chance to keep their season alive will come on Thursday, when they host Game 5 in Vegas.