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Franchise’s first ever. That’s the headline one of these teams gets to tag at the end their season.
The Washington Capitals and the Las Vegas Knights are in their first Stanley Cup Finals. Two very different storylines will battle in a first to four wins to edge their name in Lord Stanley’s trophy.
For the Capitals, it is about completing their long roller coaster run and hoisting the trophy in the Ovechkin era. For years the Capitals have been one of the Eastern Conference’s best teams with arguably the best player in during that time. Now after many disappointments and attempts they finally have an opportunity to bring hardware back to the nation’s capital.
To get in that position, they had to go through the same teams that gave them heartbreak in playoffs past. After getting past Columbus in the first round, the Capitals had to take down defending champs and conference nemesis Pittsburgh Penguins. Next was the Tampa Bay Lightning who have tormented the Caps in the past. It took the full seven games against the Lightning (19 total games) and now they get their chance for a Stanley Cup.
As great of a run the Capitals have had, it does not come close to the storyline of the Las Vegas Knights. Let’s start with the fact there was no such thing as the Las Vegas Knights a year ago. The Knights entered the 2017-2018 NHL season as an expansion team. They drafted players teams were ready to move on from, like goaltender Marc Andre Fleury and forward William Karlsson, and built the best expansion team in any American major sports.
You could say they are not the only NHL expansion team to do this, but there would be an asterisk. The 1968 St Louis Blues made the Stanley Cup finals in their inaugural season when the league expanded the original six to a field of 12. However all six new teams were put in the same conference with an automatic bid to the finals. When the Blues got there, they were promptly swept by the Canadiens in four games. Other than that, no expansion team has come close in comparison.
So here are the Golden Knights who finished with a winning record in the regular season. No super stars, no draft development and a brand new coaching staff, yet the first-year team managed to be one of the best teams in the regular season and power their way through the playoffs to be the finals’ representative for the Western Conference.
How did they do it? That starts with the coaching staff. Head coach Gerard Gallant built his team to protect the net. The Knights have the best goals against average (1.8 per game) among teams who made it past the first round. Marc Andre Fleury is the second and most important variable of this success strategy. The Stanley Cup winner is having his best playoffs of his 14 year career. Opposing teams are scoring two or less goals with nearly 95 percent of shots not reaching the twine.
The question will still remain for the Golden Knights: Can they keep this up? The Knights’ defense is great, but their offense is average. They have mustered a 2.8 goals per game in the playoffs, which is well above their goals against but does not compare to the Capitals 3.47. By those numbers, the Capitals should easily out score the Knights.
But Las Vegas’s team is use to being the underdog. Their own city has bet against them in every round so far. Most of the NHL is rooting against them and will probably rewrite the rules to make sure this never happens again.
One thing is for sure, eyes will be glued to the series. Can Alexander Ovechkin finally put the Capitals beyond NHL’s love-able losers? Or will a team that was not supposed to be there do the unthinkable? Either way we will all be witnesses to history.
Upcoming Schedule – All Times Central
5/28 Capital @ Golden Knights 7:00 p.m.
5/30 Capital @ Golden Knights 7:00 p.m.
6/2 Golden Knights @ Capitals 7:00 p.m.
6/4 Golden Knights @ Capitals 7:00 p.m.
6/7 Capital @ Golden Knights 7:00 p.m. (if needed)
6/10 Golden Knights @ Capitals 7:00 p.m. (if needed)
6/13 Capital @ Golden Knights 7:00 p.m. (if needed)