NHL Stanley Cup final preview & prediction: Vegas Golden Knights vs. Washington Capitals

The 2018 Stanley Cup finals begin Monday, May 28th, and it will be one for the story books. On one side, is the Vegas Golden Knights, a first year expansion team full of ‘misfits’, as they call themselves. On the other side, the Washington Capitals, a team full of experienced players looking to break the DC sports ‘curse’

How they got here:

Vegas:

Season Record:

54 – 21 – 7

Playoff Record:

Round 1: Swept the Los Angeles Kings in 4 games

Key Player: Goaltender, Marc Andre Fleury began the postseason with an impressive save percentage of .977 and a 0.65 goals-against average. The league average is around .900 to .920 percent.

Round 2: Beat the San Jose Sharks in 6 games

Recap: Since the Knights dethroned the Kings in a quick four games, this gave them a longer rest between series’. This proved to be an asset when the Knights came out hot in Game 1, beating the Sharks 7-0. Game 2 went to double overtime and ended with a 4-3 loss to the Sharks, the Knights first loss in their home arena. When the series was tied 2-2, the Knights proved to be a more resilient squad and won the final two games by a combined score of 8-3.

Key Players: The team’s top line of William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith were the biggest Shark-killers, combining for 25 points in the series.

Round 3 (Western Conference Final): Finished off the Winnipeg Jets in 5 games.

Recap: The Knights trailed for the first time after a 4-2 loss in Game 1, but grounded the Jets afterward. Despite not having home-ice advantage for the first time in the postseason, the Knights won twice in Winnipeg and both games at T-Mobile Arena.

Key Players:  Jonathan Marchessault built on his great playoff run by scoring seven points, and forward Ryan Reaves (originally from Winnipeg) became an unlikely hero when he scored the series-clinching goal in Game 5.

Washington:

Season Record:

49 – 26 – 7

Post Season Record:

Round 1: Capitals beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 4 – 2

Recap: Washington started out slow blowing their lead and losing in OT in the first two games of their series with the Blue Jackets, but quickly silenced haters winning four consecutive games to send them to the second round for the first time since 2000.

Round 2: Capitals advance past the Pittsburgh Penguins 4 – 2

Recap: For the third straight year, the Capitals and Penguins met in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Penguins took each of the past two postseason series against Washington (and nine of the last 10) on their way to back-to-back Stanley Cup titles, but finally the Capitals’ prevailed.

Key Player: Braden Holtby was outstanding for the Capitals after taking over as starter for Philipp Grubauer mid-way through Game 2. Holby stopped 137 of 147 shots for a .932 save percentage and the Capitals won all four games he started.

Round 3 (Eastern Conference Finals): Capitals took down the Lightning 4 – 3

Recap: Not only did the Capitals advance into the third round for the first time in the Alex Ovechkin era, they won. The Capitals rallied back from a 3-2 series deficit to win two straight and eliminate the Lightning in seven games, including the finale in Tampa.

Key Players: Holtby, Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, and Oshie.

Top Players:

Vegas:

Marc-Andre Fleury: Fleury is a playoff veteran. He has won three cups, and if he wins another this season, he would be the 12th goalie to have won four or more Stanley cup rings. Fleury enters the Cup Final with a save percentage of .947 and a goals against average of 1.68.

William Karlsson: Before his season with the Knights, Karlsson was a nobody, but this season he shocked everyone by becoming the league’s third top goal scorer with a total of 43 goals in the regular season.

Jonathan Marchessault: Similar to Karlsson, Marchessault’s career took off when he started playing with the Knights. Marchessault became one of Vegas’ top scorers with 27 goals and earned a career high of 75 points.

Washington:

Braden Holtby: Holtby has stepped up his game since coming into the postseason. Holby ended the regular season with a .907 save percentage and enters the Stanley Cup finals with a .924 save percentage.

Alex Ovechkin:  In the captain’s 14 years in the NHL, he has never won a cup. Ovechkin would become the 8th player to score more than 600 goals before winning a Stanley Cup. Ovechkin plays his heart out every game and will do whatever it takes to get his name on the cup.

Evgeny Kuznetsov: Kuznetsov carries 24 points this postseason, and ranks first in overall playoff scoring.

Statistical Matchup:

Goals per-game: Washington 3.42; Vegas 2.87.                                                    download

Goals-against per-game: Washington 2.47; Vegas 1.80.

Power play: Washington 28.8 percent; Vegas 17.6 percent.

Penalty kill: Washington 75.4 percent; Vegas 82.5 percent.

Shots per game: Washington 32.9; Vegas 31.5.

Shots-against per game: Washington 28.2; Vegas 33.7.

Via: Detroit Free Press

 

Perspective:

Vegas:

In the last 50 years, only one club from either the NHL, MLB, NBA, or NFL has reached the championship series in its inaugural season, and that was the NHL’s St. Louis Blues in 1968. Although they made it to the championship series, they did not win. If the Vegas Knights win, they will be the first team to win in their inaugural season.

Washington:

The Capitals have tried to make it back to the Stanley Cup final for 20 seasons, only to be eliminated in the first or second round. A win for the Capitals would set them free of the DC curse.

Prediction:  

Last June, Vegas odds-maker Bovada gave the Golden Knights the worst odds in the league to win the 2018 Stanley Cup, at 150-1. Nobody expected the Knights to even be competitive. It was their first season, and the expectation was that they needed time to build. The players on the other hand took matters into their own hands. They saw themselves as a bunch of ‘misfits’. They all came from different teams and were good, but not good enough to be protected. They banded together and have since been on a mission to win the cup. Personally, I want the Golden Knights to win. I want these ‘misfits’ to prove to their old teams that they were good enough to be kept, and make them see what they are missing out on. The ultimate Cinderella story.

The Capitals on the other hand, have a high-powered offense fueled by Ovechkin and Kuznetsov, and they are hungry for a cup. The Caps have shocked us all season, and who is to say they won’t shock us again in the Stanley Cup final.

I think that this season’s winner is up in the air. It will come down to who wants it more: the misfits or the veterans.

 

Final Prediction: Vegas Golden Knights in 6 games

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