In a completely unnecessary display of excess, let’s go through the ten biggest goals this decade. At a minimum, this is a great way to just walk down memory lane a bit and relive some of the highlights from an outstanding ten years - but this ought to be fodder for some debate, as well, as rankings and lists always are.
A few caveats:
- It’s tough to decide which milestones matter more than others, so we’ve omitted them altogether as a way of sidestepping that debate
- You’ll note that these are all playoff goals, and that’s on purpose — since the Capitals have usually finished the regular season in a comfortable playoff position, it’s hard to argue that any goals scored in the regular season belong on this list
- This list includes a variety of players, with only one player who appears twice... and perhaps not the one you might expect
10. Nicklas Backstrom, OT winner in Game 2 against the Montreal Canadiens, 2010
…sorry to start this list on a bit of a bummer, given the way that this series ended. However, Backstrom’s goal against the Habs in 2010 was a very important goal at the time! The Presidents’ Trophy-winning Capitals had already dropped the first game against the underdog Montreal Canadians, and were down 4-1 against Montreal in game 2.
However, the Capitals struck back with 3 goals in the third to tie it and got Backstrom’s hat-trick goal to win it in overtime. So let’s take this opportunity to appreciate Backstrom, a player that is just as crucial to the Capitals fortunes as anyone else.
9. Alex Ovechkin, opening goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 7, 2018
One thing that shouldn’t be a surprise: this will not be the only goal from the 2017-18 playoff run on this list. One thing that might be a surprise: this will be the only goal from Alex Ovechkin to make the cut, despite the fact that he’s provided us with 400 regular-season and 50 playoff goals this decade from which to choose.
That certainly doesn’t minimize the importance of this goal, however, because it was a pretty big one. The Capitals have not had a great history in playoff game 7’s, to say the least and a slow start against the talented Lightning might’ve kept the ghosts of past playoff failures looming. Instead, just 1:02 into the game, Ovechkin gave the Caps a lead they never lost, finally beating Tampa Bay and making it to their second-ever Stanley Cup final.
On a completely unrelated note, this game gave us one of the great “Alex Ovechkin Playoff Quotes”:
“We’re going to the Stanley Cup Final,” Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin said after the Caps’ 4-0 Game 7 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday. “I think everybody is happy, but we still have unfinished ... you know what I mean. I don’t know. I’m emotional right now. I think we’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time.”
8. Mike Green, OT winner in Game 2 against the New York Rangers, 2013
When Mike Green was healthy and at the top of his powers, he was one of the most dangerous offensive defensemen in the NHL and a complete joy to watch. (Additionally...offensive defensemen? Something that we value a lot more now!)
Unfortunately by 2013, Mike Green was already on the decline. He’d only played 67 total games in two years, portending injury troubles that would nag him the rest of his career. And yet he still had enough left in him to score this goal (in a series that the Caps would eventually lose) — and it was a big one for a guy who represented the Young Gun Caps better than anyone.
7. Jason Chimera, OT winner in Game 4 against the New York Rangers, 2011
To some, this will be known as the Marian Gaborik goal, as a miscommunication between Gaborik and Henrik Lundqvist led to a gimme goal in the 2nd overtime, giving the Caps a 3-1 series lead that (this time!) they wouldn’t lose.
However, you also have to give credit to the Caps, who overcame a 3-0 deficit in the third period to even make it to overtime. Although the Caps would promptly get swept by Tampa Bay in the next series, the Caps were able to get a rare playoff series win against the Rangers, and it might not have happened if not for this gift of good fortune.
Additionally, as we did with Green, let’s take a moment to appreciate Chimera. Although Chimera wasn’t the most skilled of Capitals, he scored 82 goals with the Caps while killing penalties. Not half bad, given the Capitals only gave up Chris Clark and Milan Jurčina to get him.
6. Marcus Johansson, OT winner in Game 6 against the Toronto Maple Leafs, 2017
This goal gets overshadowed a bit in Caps lore, but this goal by Johansson gave the Caps a huge series win against an upstart Maple Leafs team. Let’s remember, this was a series where the Capitals were down 2-1 at one point, which led some of us to be, well, a bit worried:
CAPITALS FANS ARE EXTREMELY CONCERNED pic.twitter.com/39aDWSEsoo— Dan Steinberg (@dcsportsbog) April 18, 2017
Yet this goal gave the Caps a series win and alleviated us for... well, all of 2 weeks, until the Penguins broke their hearts again. (Stay tuned for the long-awaited moment of revenge.)
As a theme throughout, Johansson was a longtime Cap who always seemed to be underappreciated by fans. However, he was a wiz at power-play entries, was more physical than you’d remember, and played 70+ games a season for five years in DC. Not half bad for a guy drafted behind Jordan Schroeder and Tim Erixon.
5. Joel Ward, OT winner in Game 7 against the Boston Bruins, 2012
Though some may remember this goal more for what happened afterwards, this was an enormous goal for the Capitals, and produced arguably their biggest playoff upset this decade. This was a series where one Braden Holtby had his first playoff series win, a .940 save percentage against one of the best teams in hockey, and first showed his preternatural calmness:
But Ward himself deserves more than just a passing reference. Although Ward was never the most talented player, he was one of the grittiest and always had unique insights into how hockey is played and covered. One of most insightful quotes about hockey media was said by Ward a few years later:
The Caps, he said, can’t call an isolation play for Ovechkin, running a picket fence play or ordering everyone else to the boards while their star barrels in on goal alone. There is nothing wrong with how Ovechkin has approached deciding games: “The mind-set is definitely there to do it,” Ward said. Move this storyline along to somewhere else.
“People talk and debate about it. I get it. I’m just trying to tell you: Hockey’s not that game,” Ward said. “People don’t understand, the sport of hockey is a different beast compared to other sports. You can’t just throw that deep ball in the corner, and it’s up to you to just go and grab it. Things happen. You make a pass, it banks off the boards differently, it goes off a guy’s skate, bounces over there. There’s a lot of variables that go into it. … Hockey is the ultimate beast, man. It’s a crazy sport.”
After this goal, Ward would play three more years with the Caps, before finishing out his career with the San Jose Sharks.
4. Evgeny Kuznetsov, game winning goal in Game 7 against the New York Islanders, 2015
This goal came during Kuznetsov’s first full year with the Caps, a year that saw him play on the 4th line at times and struggle to earn Trotz’s trust. However, this goal was somewhat of a coming-out party for Kuzy, as he’d become a top-line fixture for years to come, leading him to score big goals like...
3. Evgeny Kuznetsov, OT winner in Game 6 against the Pittsburgh Penguins, 2018
It’s hard to understate the importance of this goal for the Capitals, but sometimes we forget one thing: this goal ended the Stupidest Streak in Sports. The goal itself was pretty, as Kuznetsov had been exploiting Murray’s five-hole all series, and beat him there again when it mattered most.
But it meant so much more than just Caps-Pens, Round Bajillion and One. Before this goal by Kuznetsov, no D.C. sports team had been to the conference finals since 1998. As a result, this goal served as catharsis for a city that had waited to decades for one, setting in motion a sigh of relief that seemed to carry across sports... and gave us the everlasting image of Kuznetsov flapping his arms in front of stunned Penguins’ fans.
2. Devante Smith-Pelly (with an assist from Brooks Orpik), game-tying goal against the Vegas Golden Knights, 2018
This goal cemented Devante Smith-Pelly, an otherwise unremarkable fourth line winger, as a DC playoff legend.
The goal itself is beside the point (though it was a particularly gorgeous and athletic goal): having DSP be a playoff hero in a majority-black city like D.C. matters. It matters that DSP become a symbol in a sport that is often hostile to racial and ethnic minorities. And it matters that DSP will be a role model for D.C. kids for years to come.
1. Lars Eller, Stanley Cup winning goal against the Vegas Golden Knights, 2018