Ladies and gentleman, the greatest postseason in all of sports is reaching the end of it’s crescendo as the Washington Capitals will face off against the Vegas Golden Knights this Memorial Day at 8 pm.
These are two teams of destiny. They were not the most dominant teams in the regular season, but when the big stage came on, they both turned it on.
Both of these teams have very interesting storylines going on for them going into this series. The Capitals finally advanced to Lord Stanley’s Cup for the first time in 20 years, and are looking to get Alexander Ovechkin, one of the all-time greats, his first Stanley Cup.
The Golden Knights, on the other hand, tore the league apart in their first year in existence.
Both teams are dripping with motivation and will be extremely “hungry” to accomplish the difficult feat of winning an NHL Championship.
In the early stages of the playoffs, the Metropolitan division winning Capitals looked like they would choke away another playoff series. Washington fell into an 0-2 series deficit very quickly and things were not looking up to them, given their history. The Capitals eventually came back when they finally started Goalie Braden Holtby over Philipp Grubauer.
Holtby led to team to 4 straight wins and a chance to play their long time rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round.
Going back to the year 2000, the Penguins have won all 5 postseason series against the Capitals from that year to the modern day. This year, Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie, and Evgeny Kuznetsov did not allow that to happen as the Caps finally got the “demon off their back” and defeated Pittsburgh in 6 games.
This defeat over the Penguins clinched the Capital’s second trip to the conference finals in franchise history.
In fact, it was the first time any Washington D.C. related team had been to a conference final in 20 long years. The luck didn’t end there though as the Capitals defeated a powerful Tampa Bay Lightning team, who dominated the regular season, in 7 games.
The 7th game was especially euphoric for Caps fans as all the misery in the playoffs over the last couple of years, culminated to a 4-0 win for the Capitals, on the road in Tampa.
The key player in this series for the Caps, besides the always prolific Ovechkin, is center Evgeny Kuznetsov. Kuznetsov has been on his A-game in these playoffs with his league leading 24 points. Look for Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom to set Ovechkin up for many opportunities in this series vs. the fast Vegas defense.
Golden Knights Preview
In 1918, a young expansion franchise, the Toronto Arenas, set the league on fire, winning the Stanley Cup Final in their first year as a team against the Vancouver Millionaires. 50 years after this, another expansion team, the St. Louis Blues, made it all the way to the Stanley Cup final as well, losing to the Canadiens in a 4 game sweep. Fast forward 50 years later to 2018, and the expansion franchise, the Vegas Golden Knights, have an opportunity to do what the Toronto Arenas did to the Millionaires in 1918.
On paper, the Golden Knights should not have worked. They are compiled of a unit of players that no team had a need for anymore. Sportingnews.com ranked the Golden Knights the 31st best team in the NHL stating that: “It will get ugly, quick” for them.
A group of motivated role players, who were doubted by everyone, absolutely stunned all the experts this year by winning the Pacific Division.
In the playoffs, everyone doubted them once again, and they went on to sweep the Los Angeles Kings, beat a veteran San Jose Sharks team in 6 games, and finally, dismantling a stellar Winnipeg Jets team in 5 games. This team is continuously scrutinized, but continues to win.
The first line of Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson, and Reilly Smith have all been amazing this postseason. Marchessault is currently ranked 6th in the NHL this postseason with 8 goals. His teammate, William Karlsson, has 6 goals and is ranked 16th. These goals have come from assists from RW Reilly Smith. The unit is working so well together and every line meshes perfectly.
This is paired with a goalie, Marc-Andre Fleury who has been a brick wall in net for Vegas this year. In the playoffs, he has a .947 save percentage and leads the league in wins with 12. The three time Stanley Cup Final winner was let go by Pittsburgh last season and has made them regret this decision ever since. Fleury shined in the regular season by having his best Save Percentage and Goals Against Average in his career.
Game 1 Preview
I, along with many writers, believe that this Stanley Cup Final will be an instant classic. Not only are the storylines exhilarating, but the two teams match up fairly well.
The main advantage point for the Caps is their depth. Talent wise, the Capitals are superior, but in 2 meetings this year vs. Vegas, The Knights did a great job of holding superstar Alex Ovechkin to 0 points in both games.
This means that the bench players for the Caps will need to step it up, which is something they are capable of as the third line (led by Andre Burakovsky) have the same amount of goals as their second line in the last 5 games. They are getting the same amount of scoring production in both of the lines, which will benefit them vs. this top-heavy Vegas team.
This doesn’t mix well with Vegas’ play style as their second and third line only had a combined 3 goals in their series win vs. Winnipeg. The Caps second and third line doubled the amount of Vegas’ bench’s goals with 6 in their series win over Tampa Bay.
Vegas will, however, thrive defensively. A defender who has put forth a lot of production for them this postseason is Shea Theodore. Not only does Theodore have 10 blocks in his last 5 games, he also has been dealing the puck on the offensive end as well, gathering 5 assists and 2 goals in the playoffs.
The Vegas offense is tricky to make predictions about due to their scrappy mentality. They are very relentless when chasing the puck and this allows for the Knights to be one of the quickest teams in the NHL. They will be able to out-hustle the “pass first” Caps team.
In the end, I think this Vegas team will defeat the Caps in a thrilling game 1 matchup. Marc Andre-Fleury will prove to be the biggest factor as he continues to ride the momentum of his great playoffs performance on the way to another Stanley Cup.