The Washington Capitals spoiled what was otherwise a storybook first NHL season for the Vegas Golden Knights with a 4-3 victory on Thursday night to win the best-of-seven series 4-1 to claim the first Stanley Cup in the franchise's 44-year history.
Lars Eller's rebound goal with 7:37 remaining broke a tie and proved to be the championship-winning tally.
Eller outmuscled Vegas defender Luca Sbisa for the puck, which was fired at the net by Brett Connolly and squirted through the pads of Vegas goalie Marc-Andre Fleury before it stopped on the edge of the crease. Eller then fired the rebound into the vacated net.
The Capitals captured the final four games of the series. They clinched all four of their play-off series (against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Pittsburgh Penguins, Tampa Bay Lightning and Vegas) away from home and finished with 10 play-off road victories, tying the NHL single-season record.
"Beginning of the year I said we're not going to suck, and you know we win the Stanley Cup, so that's all that matters," Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin told the NBC broadcast. "We won, and it doesn't matter how we played or what happened before. We just win it."
Ovechkin, who scored a goal on Thursday, was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy, honoring the most valuable player of the Stanley Cup play-offs.
The three-time Hart Memorial Trophy winner (regular-season MVP) had 15 goals and 12 assists in 24 post-season games. His goal total was a franchise single-season play-off record.
"It is unbelievable," Ovechkin said. "I don't know what to say. It is just unbelievable. ... I'm so happy. I'm so happy for my teammates, for our fans back in Washington, my parents, my family, all my friends. ... it's just unbelievable."
Jakub Vrana and Devante Smith-Pelly added goals for Washington. Capitals goalie Braden Holtby, whose diving save of an Alex Tuch shot late in a 3-2 victory in Game 2 that was the turning point of the series, finished with 28 saves.
"I think any big play is going to be a turning point," Holtby said. "But in saying that, it was a big play in the game, but the credit really goes to our guys, our coaching staff, everyone for keep moving forward. We didn't get complacent once in this whole play-off. We kept pushing forward knowing that we could so something special, and we did."
Reilly Smith had a goal and an assist, and Nate Schmidt and David Perron also scored for the Golden Knights. Marc-Andre Fleury made 29 saves for Vegas, which cruised to the Pacific Division title and then swept the Los Angeles Kings and before defeating the San Jose Sharks and Winnipeg Jets en route to the Western Conference title.
The Golden Knights ended their surprise season with the first four-game losing streak in franchise history.