It is perhaps the most surprising Stanley Cup Final matchup in league history.
Just when you thought the championship window was closed, Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals finally exorcised their playoff demons to win the Eastern Conference and advance to the final. They will be playing the Vegas Golden Knights, an expansion team in its very first year in existence that did not even have a roster just one year ago.
Who could have seen this one coming back in September?
The Golden Knights continue to shock the hockey community with every series win. They swept the Los Angeles Kings, dispatched San Jose in six and needed only five games to eliminate the Winnipeg Jets, a team with the second-best record in the regular season who had just eliminated the first place Nashville Predators.
In their very first postseason, Vegas has carried the momentum of a spectacular regular season into a 12-3 record up to the Stanley Cup Final.
But while they may have momentum, the Caps have an air of destiny about them. Not only did they rally from a 2-0 series deficit to win four straight against the Columbus Blue Jackets, they also defeated their archnemesis and the two-time defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins. Against a heavily favored Tampa Bay Lightning squad, the Caps won three out of four road games including an emphatic 4-0 Game 7 win, thus erasing another playoff stigma for the franchise.
These two teams share some common history despite Vegas being in its inaugural season. Though general manager Brian MacLellan has certainly put his own touches on the Caps' roster and molded them into a champion, the core of Washington was still built by George McPhee. Now the Caps will take on a roster completely built from the ground up by McPhee as the general manager of the Golden Knights.
Will Vegas complete its Cinderella season or will the Caps hoist their first ever Cup at the expense of their former GM?
Stanley Cup Final: Washington Capitals vs. Vegas Golden Knights
Game 1: Capitals at Golden Knights. Monday, 5/28 at 8:00 p.m. ET. (Broadcast on NBC)
Game 2: Capitals at Golden Knights. Wednesday, 5/30 at 8:00 p.m. ET. (Broadcast on NBCSN)
Game 3: Golden Knights at Capitals. Saturday, 6/2 at 8:00 p.m. ET. (Broadcast on NBCSN)
Game 4: Golden Knights at Capitals. Monday, 6/4 at 8:00 p.m. ET. (Broadcast on NBC)
Game 5 (if necessary): Capitals at Golden Knights. Thursday, 6/7 at 8:00 p.m. ET. (Broadcast on NBC)
Game 6 (if necessary): Golden Knights at Capitals. Sunday, 6/10 (Broadcast on NBC)
Game 7 (If Necessary): Capitals at Golden Knights. Wednesday, 6/13 (Broadcast on NBC)
View full detailed schedule here.
2017-18 Team stats
- 49-26-7, 105 points, first in the Metropolitan Division
- 3.12 goals per game (9th)
- 2.90 goals against per game (16th)
- 22.5-percent power play percentage (7th)
- 80.3 penalty kill percentage (15th)
Vegas Golden Knights
- 51-24-7, 109 points, first in the Pacific Division
- 3.27 goals per game (5th)
- 2.74 goals against per game (8th)
- 21.4 power play percentage (9th)
- 81.4 penalty kill percentage (11th)
- Alex Ovechkin – 49
- Evgeny Kuznetsov – 27
- Nicklas Backstrom – 21
- Alex Ovechkin - 12
- Evgeny Kuznetsov - 11
- T.J. Oshie - 7
- Evgeny Kuznetsov – 56
- John Carlson – 53
- Nicklas Backstrom – 50
- John Carlson - 13
- Evgeny Kuznetsov -13
- Nicklas Backstrom - 12
- Alex Ovechkin – 87
- Evgeny Kuznetsov – 83
- Nicklas Backstrom – 71
- Evgeny Kuznetsov - 24
- Alex Ovechkin - 22
- John Carlson - 16
- Nicklas Backstrom - 16
- William Karlsson - 43
- Erik Haula - 29
- Jonathan Marchessault - 27
- Jonathan Marchessault - 8
- Alex Tuch - 6
- William Karlsson - 6
- David Perron - 50
- Jonathan Marchessault - 48
- Reilly Smith - 38
- Reilly Smith - 14
- Jonathan Marchessault - 10
- David Perron - 7
- William Karlsson - 7
- William Karlsson - 78
- Jonathan Marchessault - 75
- David Perron - 66
- Jonathan Marchessault - 18
- Reilly Smith - 16
- William Karlsson - 13
Braden Holtby: 54 GP, 34-16-4 record, .907 save percentage, 2.99 GAA, 0 shutouts
Philipp Grubauer: 35 GP, 15-10-3 record, .923 save percentage, 2.35 GAA, 3 shutouts
Braden Holtby: 18 GP, 12-6 record, .923 save percentage, 2.04 GAA, 2 shutouts
Philipp Grubauer: 2 GP, 0-1 record, .837 save percentage, 4.55 GAA, 0 shutouts
March-Andre Fleury: 46 GP, 29-13-4 record, .927 save percentage, 2.24 GAA, 4 shutouts
Malcolm Subban: 22 GP, 13-4-2 record, .910 save percentage, 2.68 GAA, 0 shutouts
Maxime Legace: 16 GP, 6-7-1 record, .867 save percentage, 3.92 GAA, 0 shutouts
Oscar Dansk: 4 GP, 3-0-0 record, .946 save percentage, 1.78 GAA, 1 shutout
Dylan Ferguson: 1 GP, 0-0-0 record, .500 save percentage, 6.50 GAA, 0 shutouts
Marc-Andre Fleury: 15 GP, 12-3 record, .947 save percentage, 1.68 GAA, 4 shutouts
Capitals finished with a 0-2-0 record against Vegas
Dec. 23: 3-0 Vegas win
The Caps' first trip to Vegas was a rough one. Washington was taken complete surprise by the speed and forecheck of the Golden Knights who built a 3-0 lead in the first period and ride that all the way to the finish line.
Feb. 4: 4-3 Vegas win
Washington really struggled against the speed and forecheck of Vegas in a mistake-filled game. The Caps saw a 3-2 third period lead evaporate in a 4-3 loss.
The Caps have faced elimination only twice in the playoffs and Braden Holtby did not allow a single goal in either game. He enters the Stanley Cup Final having not allowed a single goal in 159:27. Andrei Vasilevskiy began to take over the series with his performance in Game 3, Game 4 and Game 5, but Holtby outplayed him to finish off the series in Washington’s favor. Marc-Andre Fleury, meanwhile, has been the best player in the playoffs. Not the best goalie, the best player.
Both of these goalies are certainly capable of stealing away a series for their respective teams. Which one will outplay the other?
2. Time off
Rust is a real thing in hockey. Just any team when they come off a bye week. When the Caps and Golden Knights take the ice on Monday, May 28, it will be the first game for Vegas since May 20. That’s over a week off.
Yes, getting rest at this time of the year is important, but too much rest leads to rust and that should be a major concern for Vegas, especially for a team that was playing so well and has so much momentum.
3. The McPhee factor
Vegas Golden Knights general manager George McPhee was the Caps’ general manager for 17 years starting with the 1997-98 season. He knows the players very, very well.
Nicklas Backstrom, Travis Boyd, Andre Burakovsky, John Carlson, Christian Djoos, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov, Chandler Stephenson, Jakub Vrana, Tom Wilson, Braden Holtby, Philipp Grubauer and of course, Alex Ovechkin were all drafted by McPhee. Jay Beagle was also signed by as an undrafted free agent. Does that give McPhee a bit of an edge when it comes to facing the Caps?
The Golden Knights are fast. When the expansion draft was all said and done it was clear McPhee had targeted two things specifically: defensemen and speed. The result is an exceptionally fast Golden Knights team that no one has been able to keep up with so far.
Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh were both fast teams as well and the Capitals were able to combat that with strong play in the neutral zone. The 1-3-1 trap has given opponents fits and generated a lot of odd-man breaks for the Caps. Will it be as effective against a speedy Vegas team?
Read the full article here.
Players to watch
Coming on Saturday!
Keys to the series
Coming on Sunday!
Joe Beninati, NBC Sports Washingon Capitals play-by-play announcer: Capitals in 6
Ryan Billie, NBC Sports Washingon Capitals senior TV producer: Capitals in 7
Tarik El-Bashir, NBC Sports Washingon Capitals Insider: Capitals in 7
Rob Carlin, NBC Sports Washington on-air host of Capitals GameTime and Capitals Extra: Capitals in 6
Al Koken, NBC Sports Washington Capitals on-ice reporter: Capitals in 6
Courtney Laughlin, Caps FaceOff and Caps Overtime panelist: Capitals in 6
Craig Laughlin, NBC Sports Washingon Capitals color commentator: Capitals in 6
Alan May, NBC Sports Washingon Capitals analyst: Capitals in 6
Grant Paulsen, host of Caps FaceOff and Caps Overtime: Golden Knights in 6
JJ Regan, NBC Sports Washingon Capitals Digital Producer: Capitals in 6
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