Vegas Golden Knights (51-24-7) vs. Washington Capitals (49-26-7)
Season Series: Vegas 2-0-0; Washington 0-2-0
First Round: Vegas defeated L.A. in four games; Washington defeated Columbus in six games.
Second Round: Vegas defeated San Jose in six games; Washington defeated Pittsburgh in six games.
Conference Finals: Vegas defeated Winnipeg in five games; Washington defeated Tampa Bay in seven games.
The impossible has happened and the Golden Knights are in the Stanley Cup final. It has been 230 days since Vegas played their first NHL game. Some may think their performance is a fluke but I’d like to argue otherwise. Vegas has lost one home game in the playoffs. The atmosphere in their stadium is electric as well the city has come under a buzz.
Bellemare is a great storyteller.
Then, he reveals which celebrity encounter left him tongue-tied. pic.twitter.com/YKL6nGn5q0
— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) May 23, 2018
The play of Vegas goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury has been nothing short of remarkable. It seems to me that he is a shoe-in to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, whether Vegas wins the Stanley Cup or not. Only six times in NHL history has the Conn Smythe been awarded to a member of the losing team in the final. Now the outstanding performance of Vegas cannot be attributed to Fleury alone. The emergence of a franchise defenceman in Nate Schmidt and the stellar play of a slow, 36-year-old defenceman in Deryk Engelland has provided a backbone for the Golden Knights defence corps.
Here's the zone breakout data for the defensemen in the Western Conference Final. Just like last postseason when he was killing it for the Capitals, Nate Schmidt is on another level right now. pic.twitter.com/VFVRKDFuuE
— Dimitri Filipovic (@DimFilipovic) May 17, 2018
No less than 13 of 18 Vegas skaters are having the best season of their careers in terms of their points total.
What they need to win:
Obviously, Fleury needs to continue his stellar performance. Fleury is posting a 1.68 goals against average, a .947 save percentage and has a 12-3 record. Secondly, Vegas needs to score first. Vegas has scored first in 11 of their 15 playoff games and have gone on to win 10 of those games. The first line of Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith and William Karlsson will be expected to lead the way for Vegas in terms of scoring, followed by the performances of Alex Tuch and Erik Haula.
For the second time in franchise history and the first in Alex Ovechkin’s career, the Capitals have made it to the Stanley Cup final. For a player of Ovechkin’s calibre, it is quite shocking this is his first trip to the final. Ovechkin has 12 goals and 10 assists through 19 playoff games this year and looks as if he is on a personal quest to deliver Washington’s first Stanley Cup in its 44-year history. The Capitals were able to finish off Sidney Crosby and the Penguins without star centre Nicklas Backstrom, and goaltender Braden Holtby helped the Capitals defeat the Lightning with back-to-back shutouts in Games 6 and 7, his only shutouts this entire season. It is safe to say that Holtby is playing at the top of his game.
Alex Ovechkin has been waiting 12 years for tonight. You can tell how badly he wants this. pic.twitter.com/v9VrEAeKTt
— Ben Livingston (@bliv94) May 24, 2018
What they need to win:
Despite not having home-ice advantage, it won’t be a problem for Washington. The Caps are 8-2 on the road during this post-season. Ovechkin will need to continue to perform while he will need some secondary scoring. Defenceman John Carlson has been dynamite for them during the playoff run, while Backstrom seems to be healthy which will provide some assistance to Ovechkin.
Holtby’s been great. This one was behind him. pic.twitter.com/MJnBrKp5Hy
— Bucci Mane (@Buccigross) May 22, 2018
Prediction: Capitals in six.
It makes me cringe seeing Ovechkin without a Stanley Cup during his incredible career. The fight in his eyes makes me believe that he is on a mission and is not stopping until he raises the Cup. Vegas has been incredible during this playoff run and will continue to be incredible for years to come. However, it is Ovechkin’s time.
First round predictions: 6-2. Second round predictions: 3-1. Conference finals prediction: 1-1. Overall: 10-4.