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Devante Smith-Pelly, Washington Capitals Forward, Plays Key Role For NHL Champions After Devils Bought Him Out.

Devante Smith-Pelly said he couldn’t remember what happened on his tying goal in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final, and the Washington Capitals forward didn’t seem to care.

The Capitals had won their first Stanley Cup championship 30 minutes earlier with a 4-3 victory against the Vegas Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena on Thursday, and Smith-Pelly was standing amid the Cup celebration, soaking it all in.

All around were teammates posing for photos with the Cup, hugging family members, and at one point, the large number of Capitals fans who made the trip to Las Vegas starting chanting, “D-S-P!”

It’s a scene that didn’t seem possible for Smith-Pelly, who was bought out by the New Jersey Devils following the 2016-17 season and had to make the Capitals out of training camp after signing a one-year, two-way contract for $650,000 as an unrestricted free agent July 3, 2017.

But he became a key member of the Capitals with 16 points (seven goals, nine assists) in an NHL career-high 75 games in the regular season and eight points (seven goals, one assist) in 24 Stanley Cup Playoff games, including a goal in Games 3, 4 and 5 of the Final.

“This is amazing. I never thought this is how the season would end,” said Smith-Pelly, who turns 26 on June 14. “I appreciate Washington wanting to bring me in and give me a try. This is great.”

It’s a scene that didn’t seem possible for Smith-Pelly, who was bought out by the New Jersey Devils following the 2016-17 season and had to make the Capitals out of training camp after signing a one-year, two-way contract for $650,000 as an unrestricted free agent July 3, 2017.

But he became a key member of the Capitals with 16 points (seven goals, nine assists) in an NHL career-high 75 games in the regular season and eight points (seven goals, one assist) in 24 Stanley Cup Playoff games, including a goal in Games 3, 4 and 5 of the Final.

“This is amazing. I never thought this is how the season would end,” said Smith-Pelly, who turns 26 on June 14. “I appreciate Washington wanting to bring me in and give me a try. This is great.”

“I saw the puck coming toward my foot, it hit my foot, and that’s when I blacked out,” Smith-Pelly said. “I don’t really know. I kind of swung at it, and it all worked out.”

Lars Eller scored the Cup-winning goal 2:31 later.

Smith-Pelly finished the Final with three goals on seven shots, 12 hits and four blocked shots in the five games.

“You just want to contribute any way you can,” said Smith-Pelly, who has 93 points (40 goals, 53 assists) in 341 regular-season games over seven seasons with the Capitals, Devils, Montreal Canadiens and Anaheim Ducks and 16 points (13 goals, three assists) in 48 NHL playoff games since being selected by Anaheim in the second round (No. 42) of the 2010 NHL Draft. “Whether it’s a blocked shot or whatever. It feels good.”

“We’ve pushed through all that all season. We’ve been doubted all year,” Smith-Pelly said. “We knew we were going to get some looks [in Game 5] and we were going to capitalize, and that’s what we did.”

Across their 43 seasons, the Washington Capitals have dabbled in hapless hockey and exquisite hockey, boring hockey and effective hockey, but never had they played winning hockey through four playoff rounds, all the way to a grueling, glorious end.

It took a team hardened by those postseason failures but liberated from high expectations to complete a run as dazzling as it was cathartic, capping it on Thursday night by dispatching the upstart Vegas Golden Knights, 4-3, to win the first Stanley Cup in franchise history.

It was the Capitals’ fourth consecutive victory in the finals after a disorienting 6-4 loss in the opener that made little sense in the context of how they played immediately before and afterward. After twice shutting out the offensive powerhouse Tampa Bay Lightning to advance to its first Cup finals since 1998, Washington outscored the Golden Knights across these last four games by 16-8.

Lars Eller scored the winning goal with 7 minutes 27 seconds remaining, jamming in a loose puck that had slid through Marc-Andre Fleury’s pads and rested at the top of the crease behind him. The Capitals’ bench erupted, and Eller hopped away as if dancing.

The Capitals outlasted Vegas with the same elements that propelled them past Columbus, their nemesis Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay: stifling neutral-zone defense, superb goaltending by Braden Holtby and waves of prolific talent headlined by the superstar scorer Alex Ovechkin, who will no longer be labeled the best player never to win a Cup.

Ovechkin struggled to conjure words in an interview with NBC on the ice immediately after the win.

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“It’s just unbelievable,” he said. “I don’t know what to say. It’s just unbelievable.”

Unlike past Washington teams puffed with stars that collapsed in the playoffs, this group conveyed a certain resilience that infused their play, in games and in series. Even on Thursday, Washington blew two leads in a frenetic second period that ended with Vegas ahead by 3-2. But Devante Smith-Pelly evened the score on a diving goal at 9:52 of the third before Eller assured that these Capitals would become the second team to win the Cup after trailing in every round, joining the Penguins of 1991.

That same year, the Redskins embarked on a season that ended with Super Bowl glory. None of the Washington area’s major professional franchises (apologies, D.C. United) had won a championship since, and no team since the Capitals in 1998 had even advanced to the conference finals, let alone the last round. That’s even more remarkable considering some of the sporting luminaries who have played there: Bryce Harper, Max Scherzer, Clinton Portis, John Wall, Michael Jordan.

The hockey team alone in the last two decades featured Adam Oates, Jaromir Jagr and Sergei Fedorov.

But along came the Russian stars Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov, backed by a robust supporting cast that matched offensive prowess with discipline, structure and tenacity. Ovechkin, who scored the Capitals’ second goal Thursday and was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy, embodied the two-way commitment demanded by Coach Barry Trotz, blocking shots and delivering checks. He finished this postseason with 27 points, just behind Kuznetsov, who had 32, which was the most since his fellow Russian Evgeni Malkin had 36 for Pittsburgh in 2009.

George McPhee — the general manager who selected Ovechkin and constructed Washington’s spine, from Nicklas Backstrom to John Carlson to Kuznetsov to Holtby — also assembled in Vegas the most successful first-year franchise in major North American sports history. Vegas romped to a Pacific Division title and burned through the Western Conference bracket, losing only three times in its first 16 playoff games.

Facing elimination, the Golden Knights confronted their predicament with defiance. Opening their pregame festivities, a video implored fans not to give up — if the Boston Red Sox in 2004 and the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016 and the New England Patriots in 2017 could overcome imposing deficits, then so, they hoped, could Vegas.

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In contrast to these Golden Knights, the expansion Capitals in 1974-75 compiled what is still regarded as the worst season in league history, an 8-67-5 record worth 21 points. The franchise matured into a perennial contender, and for more than a decade Washington has been one of the N.H.L.’s top teams, winning its division eight times in 11 seasons and making 10 postseason appearances over all in that span.

Each of those playoff forays had been defined, in one way or another, by calamitous defeat: to eighth-seeded Montreal in 2010; in seven games to the Rangers in 2012, 2013 and 2015; in consecutive series to Pittsburgh in 2016 and 2017, despite finishing with the most points in the league both seasons. In the Ovechkin era, the Capitals have twice bungled three-games-to-one leads, and before vanquishing Tampa Bay last month, they had lost seven of 10 Game 7s.

“We don’t really dwell on the game before, let alone the things that have happened in years past,” forward T.J. Oshie said after Game 4. “But there’s been heartbreak here, we know that. But I think that’s kind of scarred over and has made us a little stronger for it.”

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Trotz has discussed the Capitals’ postseason struggles openly, often comparing his teams to others that foundered before winning, like the Islanders dynasty of the early 1980s and the Detroit Red Wings of the mid-1990s.

“All of these experiences,” Trotz said recently, “help you find out how much you can take and how much you can give.”

For years, the Capitals took and took and gave and gave, and now, with nothing more to take and nothing left to give, there is but one thing left for them to do: celebrate.

Because they, after 43 seasons, are finally champions. An hour before face-off, hundreds of Washington fans that assembled near the boards started chanting, “Go, Caps, go!” Clad in red, they soon filled in sections in the upper and lower bowls, forming a far larger presence than they had in either of the first two games here, and it seemed like half of T-Mobile Arena stood and screamed joyously after Eller scored.