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  • Washington Capitals left wing Jakub Vrana, center, celebrates his goal with right wing Tom Wilson, left, and center Evgeny Kuznetsov during the second period in Game 5 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Finals against the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday, June 7, 2018, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

  • Washington Capitals pose with the Stanley Cup after the Capitals defeated the Golden Knights 4-3 in Game 5 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Finals Thursday, June 7, 2018, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

  • Members of the Washington Capitals celebrate as they defeat the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 5 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Finals to win the Stanley Cup Thursday, June 7, 2018, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

  • Vegas Golden Knights left wing David Perron, center, tussles with Washington Capitals defenseman Christian Djoos, right, before scoring on Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby during the second period in Game 5 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Finals on Thursday, June 7, 2018, in Las Vegas. (Harry How/Pool via AP)

Friday, June 08, 2018 12:40 am

Kuznetsov and Holtby prove just as valuable as Ovechkin

W.G. RAMIREZ | Associated Press

 

LAS VEGAS — Alex Ovechkin finally got to hoist the Stanley Cup and then he lifted the Conn Smythe Trophy, recognized the MVP of the Stanley Cup Final.

Fellow Russian linemate Evgeny Kuznetsov and goaltender Braden Holtby certainly did their part, too.

In helping deliver the title Washington wanted for more than 40 years, Kuznetsov was arguably the Washington Capitals' most instrumental player in winning the Cup. The 26-year-old, fifth-year pro finished with a playoff-leading 32 points, including his 20th assist in Thursday night's 4-3 series-clinching win over the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 5.

Holtby, overshadowed coming into the Final, bested three-time Stanley Cup champion goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. He not only allowing the Golden Knights only eight goals over the last four games, but won in Vegas twice.

Holtby is now 45-37 in 82 career playoff appearances — all with the Capitals — while compiling a 2.03 goals-against average, .929 save percentage and six shutouts. That is the second-highest save percentage and fifth-best goals-against average in NHL postseason history among goaltenders with at least 50 outings.

With Ovechkin, Kuznetsov and Holtby leading the charge, Washington wasn't about to blow another 3-1 lead, an unwelcome feature of its postseason past. Prior to this season, the Capitals had lost five series when leading 3-1 — the most in the NHL.

But after losing the Game 1, the Capitals won four straight to win the Cup, outscoring the Golden Knights 16-8 along the way. For the series, Kuznetsov scored one goal and assisted on seven others, including Jakub Vrana's goal that opened the scoring for the Capitals in Game 5.

Kuznetsov, who finished the regular season with 83 points (27 goals and 56 assists), scored 12 goals and had 20 assists in the postseason. He was instrumental in Washington's 6-2 demolition of the Golden Knights in Game 4, when he registered four assists to tie a single-game Stanley Cup Final record.