There were several small parts in the first two rounds of 2018 that indicated it could be a different spring for the Washington Capitals. Jakub Vrana made it OK to believe after Game 5.
Usually on the fifth of May we know where the Washington Capitals stand against their nemesis the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round of the playoffs. This particular spring had a different feel to it and had a different scenario entering Game 5 compared to the previous year.
Instead of Washington being down 3-1 like they were the previous two years, it was a 2-2 series. The Capitals two wins were out of this world with a call going their way (for once!) and then Alex Ovechkin scoring the game-winner with a minute left on the road.
Okay, you’re thinking, the momentum must be on Washington’s side entering this Game 5. You’d be correct but it’s a tied series for a reason and the Penguins got a huge comeback win in Game 1 as well as a win in Game 4 off the heels of Tom Wilson beginning a three-game suspension.
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The Wilson suspension also put the Caps in a bind but it also rallied the team together. The Caps showed their championship form in the third period and that proved to be the difference.
The Penguins struck first at 2:23 with a goal from Jamie Oleksiak. The Caps got two power play opportunities and cashed in on their second attempt after Dominik Simon was called for tripping. A slap shot from John Carlson that beat Matt Murray glove side evened the score. Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie had the assists and the goal came at 18:22.
The Caps took the lead 33 seconds later with a shot in front from Brett Connolly. Jakub Vrana and Lars Eller had the helpers. The 2-1 lead was something to feel good about. In the second period, the momentum went straight to the visitors.
The Penguins erupted for two unanswered goals and outshot the Capitals a whooping 18-5 in the second period alone. Both goals came on the power play first from Sidney Crosby at 4:43 and Patric Hornqvist at 7:45. All of a sudden it was 3-2 Pittsburgh entering the final period.
I have no idea what Barry Trotz told his team at the intermission but whatever he said must’ve lit a fire under them. All it took was 52 seconds and a Kuznetsov breakaway backhanded goal to make this a new game. Vrana and Matt Niskanen had the assist and Vrana would make an impact moments later.
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At 15:22, Ovechkin looked like he was about to go in for the kill but instead he passed it right to Vrana, totally faking out Murray and by the time he saw V with the puck it was too late.
Other than the eventual final games that would take place, that might’ve been the loudest Capital One Arena was that spring. All the fans needed was a sign, a reason to believe that year was going to be different. Vrana provided that.
The Caps would seal the win with two empty net goals from Oshie and Eller for a 6-3 win to put the Penguins on the brink.