Alexander Ovechkin tackled the 2017/18 NHL playoffs like a man on a mission and ultimately achieved it by leading the Washington Capitals to the franchise’s first Stanley Cup since entering the league in 1974. The 32-year-old Russian winger was the catalyst for his team’s five-game victory over the expansion Golden Vegas Knights in the finals after dispatching the Columbus Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins in six games and then the Tampa Bay Lightning in seven in the Eastern Conference Final.
Ovechkin just finished his 13th NHL campaign and this was the first time he made it past the second round of the playoffs. However things were decidedly different this year as he racked up a league-leading 15 goals along with 12 assists for 27 points in 24 postseason contests and also captured the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the playoffs beating out teammates Evgeny Kuznetsov and goaltender Braden Holtby in the voting. The victory came in the Capitals’ second appearance in the finals as they were swept in four games by the Detroit Red wings back in 1997/98.
They’re also just the seventh team to win the championship after losing their first two postseason games as they were down to Columbus 2-0 in the first round this year. In addition, Ovechkin entered the playoffs as the only multiple winner of the Hart Trophy to never win a Stanley Cup and that awkward milestone has now been eliminated. Ovechkin, who has missed just 29 regular-season games during his NHL career, certainly had some help in the postseason, but his leadership and enthusiasm for the game made him the team’s driving force.
Kuznetsov led the league in playoff scoring with 12 goals and 20 assists for 32 points and was followed by Ovechkin’s 27 points and then Nicklas Backstrom with five goals and 18 assists for 23 points. The line of Kuznetsov, Lars Eller (7-11-18) and Backstrom chipped in with 73 points while goaltender Braden Holtby posted a 2.16 goals-against average with a 92.2 save percentage. The Capitals’ power play went five for 16 against Vegas in the finals for a success rate of 31.3 per cent and it went 22 for 75 overall in the playoffs for a con version rate of 29.3 per cent.
Backstrom, Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, John Carlson and T.J. Oshie all scored at least 11 power play points in the postseason with Carlson scoring 20 and Oshie racking up 21 points overall. Ovechkin, who led the league in scoring for the seventh time this year with 49 goals, is the first Russian-born player to captain a Stanley-Cup winner and the pressure’s definitely been lifted from his shoulders. He was often the scapegoat of previous Washington squads as they struggled to succeed in the playoffs, but Ovechkin’s always pulled his weight and now has 61 goals and 56 assists for 117 points in 121 career playoff games. This includes one point in each of the five games in this year’s final series.