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Keys to the Cup: Round 3, Game 6 vs. Tampa Bay

Taking a look back at the Caps’ path to the Cup, with a focus on the key moments in each series. Next up? Their third-round battle with the Bolts.

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Washington Capitals at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

No path to the Cup is smooth, and the Capitals certainly had their work cut out for them to bring home their first championship in franchise history. Along the way, they faced four opponents in four series that each had their own obstacles and turning points. This week, we’ll be taking a look at each series - and the key moment in each en route to the Stanley Cup.

Truth be told, Andre Burakovksy had a pretty rough go of it in the playoffs.

The 23-year-old wing broke his right thumb early in Game 2 of the first-round series against Columbus and required surgery that kept him out through the second round. Upon his return, he was ineffective, registering just two unblocked shot attempts and no scoring chances in his first four games back. Through 16 playoff games, Burakovsky had missed ten and been held off the score sheet for the other six. And so, for Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final, with the series tied at two games apiece (after the Caps had jumped out to a 2-0 series lead), Andre Burakovsky was a healthy scratch.

Defensible roster decision? Absolutely. But with guys like Burakovsky, it’s gotta be a particularly difficult call, given his potential to impact an outcome:

The Caps dropped Game 5 after falling behind 3-0 early in the second period and looked to be dead in the water heading home for Game 6, having lost three-straight to a very good Tampa team whose goalie had suddenly become impregnable.

That’s when Barry Trotz went back to Burakovsky.

The Caps came out flying in Game 6, Burakovsky was better (including nearly converting on a partial breakaway), and Washington sent the game back to Tampa for a winner-take-all Game 7 in which Andre Burakovsky took all:

Burakovsky’s two second-period goals buried the Bolts.

To be sure, the team’s stout defensive effort and Braden Holtby’s continued redemption tour were The Key™ to those last two wins. But Burakovsky’s two goals (his only two primary points of the playoffs, by the way) showed the importance of having game-breakers in the lineup rather than in the press box. To his credit, Barry Trotz pushed the right buttons here (as he did all Spring long, handily out-coaching a two-time Jack Adams winner, the two-time reigning Cup-winning coach, everyone‘s favorite young bench boss and this year‘s lock for Coach of the Year in succession) and was rewarded for it. (Similarly, Trotz deserves kudos for sticking with Jakub Vrana through his 12-game goal-less drought that finally ended when he opened the scoring in the Cup-clinching Game 5 in Vegas.) And without this part of the story, we might well not have these parts of it: