Photo: John Locher (AP)

This year was different. The Washington Capitals are Stanley Cup champions.

Let’s say it again: With a thrilling 4-3 win in Game 5 to dispatch a frisky-yet-overmatched Vegas team, the Caps are champs.

Champions for the very first time in the franchise’s 44-year history. Champions, the first Washington team in any major sport to win since 1992. Champions for the first time in the Capitals’ post-lockout era, a series of fearsomely talented, frightfully underachieving teams. This was the season history lost.

And the year Alex Ovechkin finally, finally won.

The perception was never fair. Ovechkin was saddled with a reputation as a guy who disappears in the postseason, but that was a function of team shortcomings, and of unfair comparisons to Sidney Crosby. In reality, Ovechkin is second among active players in career goals per playoff game, and fourth (behind Crosby, Malkin, and Patrick Kane) in career points per playoff game. He is a hard-working superstar, respected captain, and valued teammate, and it just never came together before. Sometimes it never does. Sometimes you have to wait till you’re graying and 32 and your own GM said your team’s window had closed.

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Sometimes—OK, only this one time—it all comes together and you win the Cup and you win the Conn Smythe and earn validation you didn’t actually need and you do it all in Las Vegas, and because you’re Alex Ovechkin you might not leave this city and might not stop partying until training camps open back up in September. And you have earned every minute and every drink of it.

The fans have waited even longer; they’re in the streets and the bars right now and even right up until the final minutes of this game—when the damn game clock went out and no one knew how much time was left—many of them surely had a voice telling them that it could still all go horribly wrong. That’s what history does to you. But it did not go wrong. It is over. They can’t be hurt any more. The Capitals are Stanley Cup champions.