The Associated PressPITTSBURGH (AP) — A cathartic celebration 20 years in the making began with a poke of Evgeny Kuznetsov’s stick. It built as the puck that Kuznetsov tapped away from Sidney Crosby made its way to Washington Capitals teammate Alexander Ovechkin.
It neared its crescendo as Ovechkin flipped it back to Kuznetsov, who at this point had split two Penguins and was streaking toward the Pittsburgh net. And it culminated jubilantly and unexpectedly in the corner moments later, with the puck in the net and Kuznetsov’s teammates mobbing him after he ended two decades of frustration with a flick of the Russian’s wrist.
The ghosts of past playoff failures, many of them at the hands of the Penguins, were gone. Dispatched over the course of six games of grit and guile, the last a 2-1 overtime win in Game 6 on Monday night that gave Washington a 4-2 series victory and a spot in the Eastern Conference finals against Tampa Bay.
“It’s pretty emotional,” Kuznetsov said after his seventh goal of the playoffs 5:27 into overtime pushed the Capitals into the NHL’s final four for just the third time in franchise history. “I don’t really have a word for it.”
Maybe because there aren’t many that can accurately describe the anguish Washington has felt during much of the Ovechkin Era, one filled with postseason failure after postseason failure, many of them coming with the team on the precipice of a breakthrough.
Only this time they didn’t crumble. Even with Nicklas Backstrom, Tom Wilson and Andre Burakovsky out. Even with a handful of rookies — including Australian Nate Walker — thrust into the lineup. Even on the road against a two-time defending champion with a special knack for torment.