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Keys to the Cup: Round 4, Game 4 vs Vegas

Taking a look back at the Caps’ path to the Cup, with a focus on the key moments in each series. Wrapping it all up? Their Stanley Cup Final battle with the Golden Knights.

NHL: Stanley Cup Final-Vegas Golden Knights at Washington Capitals Geoff Burke-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.

It’s pretty easy to single out the biggest moment of the Stanley Cup Final. It’s got a name, it’s got t-shirts, it’s got licensed merchandise from the League. The Save has also already been featured here at The Rink, so in the name of variety, we choose a moment that came two games later.

Let’s set the table real quick: after winning in Game 1, the Golden Knights have dropped consecutive games to the Capitals, and will be staring down the barrel at a 3-1 series deficit if they don’t come out guns blazing in Game 4 in front of a wild D.C. crowd that’s drunk on the thrill of a deep playoff run … and drunk on other things too.

Sure enough, the Knights come out hard. The Caps are bending under the barrage of shots, and eventually have to take a penalty. Enter James Neal and the Golden Knights power play. A bit of nifty passing through the Caps’ flailing penalty kill resulted in Neal having the puck on his stick with nothing but empty net ahead for miles.

Here’s what happened:

He missed. The guy with just south of 500 career points just plain missed an empty net at one of the biggest crossroads of his career. Good job, idiot.

So what? Vegas was still dominating at that point, and plenty of game left, right? Not exactly. The Caps’ scored these three goals before the first intermission, and they were off to the races for a 6-2 victory. First:

and then...

and then...

So, instead of a crowd-quieting 1-0 lead early in a Game 4, with a chance to close out the game to send a tied series back to a T-Mobile arena madhouse for a pivotal game 5, James Neal missed, the Caps’ took the game and, ultimately, the series over. Repeated for emphasis: good job, idiot.

Thanks, James Neal, for the final Key to the Cup. Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.