The past decade can accurately be described as a rollercoaster for the Washington Capitals, to say the least. From record-breaking milestones to back-to-back Presidents’ Trophies to playoff disappointments to a Stanley Cup championship, the Capitals have experienced it all in the past ten years. and have provided their fanbase with some extremely memorable moments along the way.
As the 2010s are quickly coming to a close, now is the perfect time to take a look at my top 10 favorite Capitals moments of the decade.
I don’t think there was any better way to start the decade than the infamous “Snowvechkin” weekend of Feb. 5-7, 2010. The Capitals had a two-game homestand that weekend against the Atlanta Thrashers on Friday, Feb. 5 and the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday, Feb. 7 — Super Bowl Sunday — during a blizzard that buried the nation’s capital in about 25 inches of snow. Washington entered the weekend on a 12-game winning streak.
That Friday, Ovechkin helped the Capitals down the Thrashers 5-2 by scoring a power-play goal and recording an assist. However, the most memorable action came on Super Bowl Sunday in an Ovechkin-vs.-Crosby showdown.
Sidney Crosby opened the scoring with a pair of goals to give Pittsburgh an early 2-0 lead. Ovechkin struck in the second period to cut the Penguins’ lead to 2-1, but the black and gold went on to take a 4-2 lead heading into the third period. The Russian captain scored twice in the third period to complete a hat trick and tie the game at 4-4. Ovechkin then went on to assist Mike Knuble’s game-winning goal in overtime, extending the Capitals’ winning streak to 14 games.
9) 2015 NHL Winter Classic
The Capitals have featured in two NHL Winter Classics since the annual game’s inception in 2008. Although Washington has won both games, its second Winter Classic appearance will always stand out the most to me.
Nationals Park, the home of the Washington Nationals, transformed into a hockey rink for a day to host the Capitals and Chicago Blackhawks in the seventh Winter Classic on Jan. 1, 2015. Although it was the second least-watched Winter Classic game of all-time, it was without a doubt one of the most dramatic.
Washington forward Eric Fehr opened the scoring seven minutes into the game on a breakaway, and Ovechkin followed five minutes later with a goal of his own to give the Capitals a 2-0 lead. However, the Blackhawks responded less than two minutes later off of a wrist shot by Patrick Sharp from the blue line. Brandon Saad then scored three minutes into the second period to even the score at 2-2 until the final seconds of the third period.
The Capitals won a center-ice face-off with 20 seconds remaining in regulation. Ovechkin received the puck on the left wing and skated into the left face-off circle where he attempted a shot, but his stick was broken on a slash by Saad. As the captain circled around the top of the crease in frustration with his arms in the air on the delayed penalty, former Blackhawk Troy Brouwer flung the puck past Corey Crawford with 13 seconds left to win the game and send the D.C. faithful berserk. What a way to kick off the new year.
8) Back-to-Back Presidents’ Trophies
The hope and promise that came at the end of the 2015-16 and 2016-17 regular seasons when Washington won back-to-back Presidents’ Trophies are impossible to forget. (from ‘Capitals clinch Presidents’ Trophy with NHL’s best record for second straight year,’ Washington Post, 04/05/2017). The Capitals finished first both seasons with the most wins in the league with 56 in 2015-16 and 55 in 2016-17.
Although the team proved to be the best team in the regular season for two seasons in a row, the Capitals were unable to live up to expectations during the playoffs and were eliminated by the Penguins in the second round each postseason. Nevertheless, winning back-to-back Presidents’ Trophies a remarkable feat, and it is an achievement that has only been completed by six other teams in NHL history.
This two-year period truly marked the start of the Capitals’ dominance as a powerhouse and legitimate Stanley Cup contender in the Ovechkin era. In this time, Ovechkin set a number of milestones, winning his sixth Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy for the most goals in the 2015-16 season, scoring his 500th NHL goal, reaching 1,000 career points, and being named one of the 100 Greatest NHL Players. To top it off, Braden Holtby received the Vezina Trophy as the league’s best goaltender after recording 48 wins in the 2015-16 season.
7) Ovechkin scores 500th NHL goal
As previously mentioned, the “Great Eight” has reached a number of milestones throughout his illustrious career that have likely sealed his fate as a future NHL Hall of Fame inductee. However, none came as memorably, for me, as the game in which the captain recorded his 500th NHL goal.
Ovechkin scored his 500th and 501st goals in a 7-1 home victory over the Ottawa Senators on Sunday, Jan. 10, 2016. With his family in attendance, the Russian winger scored his 500th goal in traditional style from his “office” in the left face-off circle while on the power play. The entire bench emptied to join him in celebration, and he skated around the ice to salute the fans and players who gave him a standing ovation accompanied by deafening cheers.
Goal No. 501 came in even more spectacular fashion as the captain deked his way past defenseman Erik Karlsson and roofed the puck into the top-left corner to seal Washington’s 7-1 win.
Other scoring milestones Ovechkin has reached since then include his 600th goal, 1,000th point, 100th game-winning goal, and the record for most goals scored by a Russian-born NHL player.
6) T.J. Oshie Trade
The Capitals acquired St. Louis Blues star forward and 2014 Olympics shootout hero T.J. Oshie on July 2, 2015 in a blockbuster trade that shaped the future of the franchise. The deal sent Troy Brouwer, goaltender Pheonix Copley, and a third-round pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft to the Blues.
Knowing his team was just missing a few key pieces in order to make a deep playoff run, general manager Brian MacLellan signed Oshie alongside veteran forward Justin Williams to add depth and talent to a highly-skilled Capitals team. The right-winger went on to help establish the Capitals’ dominance that led to their two-consecutive Presidents’ Trophies and 2018 Stanley Cup championship run.
During seven seasons in St. Louis, the American established himself as a solid all-around, high-energy player with 110 goals and 200 assists for a total of 310 points in 443 games. Coming into Washington, Oshie brought a boatload of talent and energy to the Capitals’ first and second lines as well as the power play.
Oshie did not fail to impress during his first season in red, white, and blue, ending the regular season with a then-career-high 26 goals. He tallied 33 goals the following season—his current career-high.
The most impressive period of the forward’s tenure so far as a Capital came in the 2018 playoffs when Oshie scored eight goals—six on the power play and two game-winners—and tallied 13 assists in 24 games to help lead the franchise to its first-ever Stanley Cup championship.
No. 77 finds himself playing alongside Jakub Vrana and Evgeny Kuznetsov on the Capitals’ second line where he has recorded 27 points in 39 games. He is an invaluable piece to the team and is largely responsible for Washington’s continued success throughout his five seasons in the nation’s capital. It is safe to say that MacLellan’s 2015 trade has since paid off for both Oshie and the Capitals.
5) Ovechkin Goes Coast-to-Coast vs. Devils
Besides his goals against the then-Phoenix Coyotes in 2006, the Montreal Canadiens in 2009, and the New York Rangers in the 2009 Playoffs, no other Ovechkin goal stands out more to me than his ridiculous coast-to-coast goal against the New Jersey Devils on Dec. 20, 2014.
I was sitting in the nosebleeds at my second Capitals game with my family that night, and I remember the goal as clear as day: Ovechkin collected the puck inside Washington’s zone, skated past the benches into New Jersey’s zone, performed his signature between-the-legs toe drag to spilt the defensemen, and backhanded the puck past goaltender Cory Schneider while simultaneously being tripped by Travis Zajac.
The Russian’s world-class composure to go to his backhand and find the back of the net while falling to the ice is extremely similar to that demonstrated in his goal against the Coyotes during his rookie season. To this day, Ovechkin’s goal against the Devils is still one of the greatest goals I’ve ever seen.
4) Burakovsky Leads Capitals to Stanley Cup Final
Washington entered Game 7 of the 2018 Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning knowing that a win would see the team advance to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 20 years. What the Capitals did not know was that Andre Burakovsky would be the hero who helped them do so, which makes this moment all the more special.
Ovechkin gave his team a 1-0 lead just 1:02 after puck-drop with a blast from the left point. The early goal would ultimately go on to be the game-winner. However, Burakovsky — a player who had been inconsistent throughout his tenure in Washington and had yet to score in the postseason — cemented the win with two second-period goals off of great individual efforts. An empty-net goal capped off the 4-0 victory.
Without Burakovsky’s goals, the Lightning could have easily gained momentum and snuck a couple of goals past Holtby to change the course of both the game and series. Tampa Bay was only inches away from scoring on a number of shots that hit to iron and an empty-net opportunity that was squandered, so all it needed was a bit of luck and confidence to get back into the game. Luckily for the Capitals, the Swede chose the perfect time to have his breakout performance of the playoffs.
3) Kuznetsov Breaks Pittsburgh Playoff Curse
I’m not sure any Capitals fan can ever forget the moment when Evgeny Kuznetsov eliminated the Pittsburgh Penguins from the 2018 Stanley Cup playoffs in overtime of Game 6 to send Washington to the Eastern Conference Final.
Just listen to the call and watch it for yourself:
Everything about this play is picture-perfect in the eyes of a Capitals fan: Crosby is dispossessed, Ovechkin plays a perfectly-weighted pass to send his fellow Russian on a breakaway, Kuznetsov smoothly finds the back of the net while Kris Letang loses his stick and slides across the ice in a last-ditch effort to save the series, and the
Capitals’ radio commentator John Walton said it best in his call heard in the video above:
“The demons have been exorcized! Good morning, good afternoon, and good night Pittsburgh! We’re going to Tampa Bay! The Capitals have done it!”
Those were the most satisfying words to hear after years of repetitive heartbreak and humiliation from losing to Pittsburgh in the second round of the playoffs. This win simply felt like a Stanley Cup championship in the moment. The goal would have always been remembered as the goal that broke the Capitals’ second-round curse regardless of the outcome of the playoff run, but now it will forever be known as the historic goal that helped propel the team to a Stanley Cup victory.
2) “The Save”
Holtby will forever be remembered by hockey fans for his series-changing stick save against the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 2 of the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.
With just two minutes remaining in regulation, Cody Eakin played a perfect pass across the doorstep to Alex Tuch who looked destined to tie the game 3-3 with a wide-open net in front of him. Unable to slide across the crease in time, Holtby lunges his stick out to cover the gaping net and saves Tuch’s shot with the paddle of his stick.
Pierre McGuire, as heard in the post above, accurately summarized the save during the live NBC broadcast:
“In Washington they’ll be calling this ‘The Save!’ As he comes off the ice, Devante Smith-Pelly right next to me goes, ‘That’s gotta be the save of the year.'”
“The Save” went on to alter the course of the series between the Capitals and Golden Knights. Vegas already had a 1-0 series lead going into Game 2, and if Tuch would have scored, the Golden Knights could have gone on to score a game-winner and take a 2-0 series lead heading into Game 3 at Capital One Area. Instead, Washington won Game 2 and the following three games to win the Stanley Cup.
1) Capitals Win Their First-Ever Stanley Cup
After 44 years of high hopes met by disappointment and heartbreak, the Capitals finally won their first-ever Stanley Cup championship after defeating the Golden Knights 4-3 in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final on June 7, 2018. Vegas initially began the series with a 1-0 lead, but Washington won four-straight games to cement its name in the history books and bring the Cup home to the nation’s capital.
After a first period largely dominated by the Capitals, Vrana used his speed to transition from defense to offense to open the scoring in the second period with a beautiful shot into the top-right corner. The goal was negated by former Capital Nate Schmidt’s equalizer three minutes later. Under a minute later, Ovechkin gave Washington a 2-1 lead after scoring from his “office” on the power play. Vegas then went on a two-goal scoring streak, one by Tomas Tatar and the other by Reilly to close out the period.
It was all Washington from that point on. Devante Smith-Pelly tied the game at 3-3 on a remarkable diving play to sneak the puck past Marc-Andre Fleury halfway through the third period. Lars Eller scored the game-winner less than three minutes later by burying a loose puck into an empty net.
However, perhaps the most memorable moments of the Capitals’ victory came after everything was said and done. Beginning with the Cup ceremony, Ovechkin looked like the happiest man on the planet as he lifted the trophy for the first time after defying all the odds and silencing his critics. He and Nicklas Backstrom took a lap around the ice hoisting Lord Stanley above their heads together, a moment that will forever live in the hearts of Capitals fans. Oshie then shared a heartfelt moment with the world as he spoke with tears in his eyes about his father who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
The celebration continued back home in D.C. during the Capitals’ victory parade. Ovechkin and Kuznetsov gave expletive-filled speeches that have been printed on t-shirts and repeated by Washington fans ever since, and Oshie chugged a beer with his jersey pulled over his head.
The rest of the summer was a non-stop party that saw the players swim in public fountains, do keg stands with the Cup, and Ovechkin sleep with the trophy. This all goes to show that hockey is more than just a game, and it proves why fans continue to love the Capitals.
Christopher Williams is a junior journalism student at Emerson College in Boston. He fell in love with the Washington Capitals at an early age, and it’s been his dream ever since to cover hockey as a journalist. Christopher is a staff writer for Emerson’s student newspaper, The Berkeley Beacon, where he writes the Boston Bruins column. He is also a sports reporter for Emerson’s TV station, WEBN-TV Boston, where he has covered the Boston Bruins, Beanpot Tournament, and Boston University men’s hockey.