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2018 Stanley Cup Finals: preview and prediction

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2018 Stanley Cup Finals: preview and prediction

UNCW Club Ice Hockey

UNCW Club Ice Hockey

UNCW Club Ice Hockey

Brian Carpenter, Staff Writer

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The Stanley Cup Final matchup is now set. The expansion-based Western Conference Vegas Golden Knights will take on the Eastern Conference Washington Capitals.

Set to begin on Monday, May 28 in Las Vegas, this Final is the first time since 2007 that both teams will be looking for their first championship. In that final, the Anaheim Ducks defeated the Ottawa Senators in five games.

How they got here: Las Vegas Golden Knights (51–24–7)

The Golden Knights’ season has been defined by the production received from players that were placed on a non-protected list of players from all 30 National Hockey League teams. During the June 2017 expansion draft, NHL teams could only protect seven forwards, three defenseman and one goaltender or eight skaters and one goaltender. The Golden Knights then had to choose one player from each of these teams to make up their first roster.

Players like Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson, Colin Miller and Reilly Smith were all players the Golden Knights picked up at the expansion draft. Little did people know the impact these players would make as the playoffs rolled around in April 2018.

The Golden Knights’ playoff run got off to a quick start as they swept the Los Angeles Kings in four games in the first round. This series was much more competitive than the series score indicated. Every game was decided by one goal, including Game 2 going into double overtime.

In what has become one of the central themes of the Golden Knights playoff success, goalie Marc-Andre Fleury collected two of his four shutouts in the series and outdueled the Kings netminder Jonathan Quick, who kept the Kings competitive despite the sweep.

In the second round, the Golden Knights battled another California team, the San Jose Sharks. Despite only scoring seven goals total in the first round, the Golden Knights offense woke up, scoring a total of 22 goals in the six games, including a 7-0 win in Game One.

Marchessault, Karlsson, and Smith are the top three scorers for the Golden Knights heading into the Stanley Cup Final, combining for a total of 47 points in 15 games (16 goals and 31 assists). In the series against the Sharks, the three combined for 25 total points. Smith and Karlsson both had eight while Marchessault had nine. That even distribution in scoring has been one of the major keys to the Golden Knights success.

In the Western Conference Final, the Golden Knights battled the Winnipeg Jets. The Jets came off a seven-game series victory against the Nashville Predators, who were the defending Western Conference champions and the 2018 President Trophy winner.

After dropping Game One in Winnipeg by a final of 4-2, the Golden Knights reeled off four straight wins including two wins in Winnipeg. In Game Five, Ryan Reaves who the Golden Knights acquired in a trade during the season, scored the game-winning goal in the second period to push Vegas to the Stanley Cup Final.

How they got here: Washington Capitals (49–26–7)

Washington’s run to the Cup Final has seen a little more adversity. After winning Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning by a 4-0 margin, the Capitals will be playing in their first Stanley Cup Final since 1998, where the Capitals were swept by the Detroit Red Wings.

In the First Round, the Capitals played the Columbus Blue Jackets and the series got off to a rocky start. Washington played their first two games at home in the Verizon Center and dropped both games in overtime. Washington found themselves two losses away from a quick elimination.

However, the Capitals bounced back in Columbus, winning Game Three in double overtime thanks to a Lars Eller game-winner at the 11-minute mark of the second overtime session. A Game Four 4-1 victory saw the series even at 2 with the series heading back to Washington.

Another overtime victory in Game Five followed by a 6-3 Game Six win in Columbus advanced the Capitals back to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs for the fourth year in a row. And for the third year in a row, the Capitals had a date with Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

In what has become one of the mainstays in the great rivalry that Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin have developed since they both were drafted first overall in back to back NHL drafts in 2004 and 2005, is that Crosby has had all of the success against Ovechkin and his Capitals. Before heading into the second round of this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, Crosby and the Penguins had won every single series that Ovechkin and the Capitals had played against each other.

After dropping Game 1 on home ice, questions emerged about the Capitals struggles against the Penguins. However, a 4-1 win in Game 2 and a 4-3 win in Game 3 in Pittsburgh saw the Capitals up 2-1 in the series and a position that they have not been used to when facing the Penguins. In fact, this was the first time that the Capitals had won two of the first three games in a series against Pittsburgh since 2009.

In Game Six with the Capitals ahead 3-2 in the series, the Capitals got off to a strong start as a second-period goal from Alex Chiasson put Washington ahead 1-0 early in the period. A Kris Letang goal, however, evened the game at one in that same period and following a scoreless third, the game was heading into overtime.

In the first overtime session, a pass from Ovechkin to get the puck ahead to Evgeni Kuznetsov near center ice allowed Kuznetsov to get some space between him and the two Pittsburgh defenders. Kuznetsov’s wrist shot beat the Pittsburgh goaltender Matt Murray and the Capitals were heading to the Eastern Conference Final to meet with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

An emotional series victory against a franchise that has haunted the Capitals for decades may have been considered a successful season. The Capitals were not done, as the Capitals were able to win the first two games in Tampa to kick off the East Final. To put this into perspective, Tampa had only lost one home playoff game in the first two rounds of their series against the New Jersey Devils and Boston Bruins.

The series shifted to Washington, but Tampa brought the level of play that most expected from the team with the highest regular-season point total (113) in the Eastern Conference. Tampa won both games in Washington to even the series 2-2 and once again, questions of doubt began to surface about the Capitals and will the playoff demons come back to haunt them again.

Another win by Tampa in Game Five in Tampa saw the Capitals trailing 3-2 in the series and one loss away from elimination, setting the stage for a win-or-go-home Game Six in the nation’s capital. A strong performance out of the Capitals goaltender, Braden Holtby however, gave the Capitals a 3-0 win in Game Six and a trip back to Tampa for Game Seven.

Holtby’s back-to-back shutouts and Andre Burakovsky’s two goals pushed the Capitals ahead of the Lightning and the Capitals were on their way to Vegas. Ovechkin also had a goal in the first period that got the Caps an early 1-0 lead in which they never looked back from.

Series Storylines

Looking at this series closely, the series has plenty of storylines when it comes to talking about this Stanley Cup Final. Questions like:

Can the Vegas Golden Knights complete the dream season and win a championship in their first ever season?

Can Alex Ovechkin win the one trophy that has avoided his entire career in the NHL?

What are the emotions going through the current Vegas Golden Knights GM George McPhee (who was once the GM of the Capitals and selected Ovechkin in the 2004 NHL draft)?

These are just a few of the many storylines that you can talk about when discussing this Stanley Cup Final.

Prediction

The Golden Knights have become one of the greatest stories to ever hit the hockey world. It’s hard to think of a more storybook ending, than the Golden Knights raising Lord Stanley in their inaugural season. But when I think about the run that the Washington Capitals have been on and what this means for Ovechkin and his career, it is extremely hard to pick against Washington. It’s an extremely hard series to predict but I think the Capitals find a way to overcome the challenges that Vegas brings, and the Capitals earn the Cup in a competitive series.

Capitals in Seven

1 Comment

One Response to “2018 Stanley Cup Finals: preview and prediction”

  1. Ben Lacy on May 27th, 2018 1:49 pm

    Nice article, but Knights in 6!

If you want a picture to show with your comment, go get a gravatar.




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2018 Stanley Cup Finals: preview and prediction