When the NHL season began, one team was beginning their inaugural season with a bunch of cast-offs and scraps from the other 30 teams in the league.
This team was, of course, the Vegas Golden Knights. This team is just four wins away from winning their first Stanley Cup in franchise history.
Their opposition, the Washington Capitals, are a team that has also never won the Stanley Cup, although they have made it to the Finals once before.
Man, talk about a couple of perennial losers in the playoffs, huh? Neither team has won a Stanley Cup in their entire history.
The Golden Knights and Capitals were only separated in the regular season standings by a couple of wins, as both teams had the same number of OT losses. These two teams play a similar style of hockey with their high-paced, high-energy, and highly skilled play. I would say that both teams are well-rounded from top-to-bottom, although the Capitals may be more top-heavy with their top line that includes Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov.
During the regular season, the Golden Knights won both head-to-head matchups 3-0 and 4-3 and had both their starting goaltenders, Braden Holtby and Marc-Andre Fleury in net for these games.
Speaking of goaltenders, Fleury has been solid against the Capitals in his career with a 22-12-2 record, 914 SV%, and 2.54 GAA. He’s definitely familiar with his opposition as he spent a majority of his playing career spanking Ovi and company while also capturing three Stanley Cups along the way.
What Do We Really Know Anymore?
Heading into the season, I’m not sure anyone was giving the Golden Knights or Caps much of a chance to make it to the Stanley Cup Finals, let alone either have a chance to win it. The Golden Knights even opened in Vegas at 500-1 odds and that’s just absurd in hindsight.
The Caps, on the other hand, are a team that have ripped its fans’ hearts out more than Kanos going in for the “finish him” fatality (that’s a Mortal Kombat reference for you younglings). They were, up until this year, the Peyton Manning of the NHL: a team with all the regular season accolades, but with little-to-no playoff hardware. Like Manning, Ovechkin finally has a chance to exercise some demons near the end of his career and lift the Cup for himself, Mother Russia, Capitals fans, and, most importantly, Washington D.C.
On paper, The Golden Knights and Capitals are pretty evenly matched when looking through all four lines. I think that the top-lines for both teams are evenly matched, although Tom Wilson probably brings down the overall ranking for this line compared to the Golden Knights line of Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson, and Reilly Smith. Going back to the “what do we really know anymore?” phrase above, it is amazing to see just how improved these players have become in Vegas then they were on their previous teams.
Marchessault had a career-high 51 points with the Florida Panthers before having an even better career-high 75 points. Reilly Smith was nowhere near the 60 points man that he has become with Vegas and Karlsson leaped from 25 points with the Columbus Blue Jackets last year to leading the Golden Knights with 78 points this year.
For the Capitals, Ovechkin leads the way with his scoring ability and using his big, but older, body to physically dominate his opponents. The supporting cast around him are good, but maybe not as well-rounded as the Golden Knights. This cast includes the likes of Nicklas Bacstrom and T.J. Oshie (who are probably better than the supporting cast on the Golden Knights, sorry for the mixup), as well as Lars Eller and Andre Burakovsky.
This preview may seem a little brief, however, these two teams are so evenly matched and have become so unpredictable that I’m not really sure what will happen in this series.
The forwards for both teams are evenly matched, the defensemen are a wash even though the Golden Knights seem to have more line depth, and the goaltenders are a toss up.
Trying to pick a winner of this series is nearly impossible and as a fan, I’m torn for who to root for. Both teams have great and compelling narratives that have gotten them to this point and things will only ramp up as the series moves along.
As a fan, I’m somewhat rooting for the Capitals simply because I think it’s finally time for Ovechkin to get a Cup. He’s been one of the all-world talents in the league for 10+ years and it would be a nice story for him and his teammates.
The Golden Knights, however, were castoffs and have defied all of the odds (literally) by making it to the Stanley Cup Finals.
With that said, give me a seven game series and I will be content.
The Prediction: Golden Knights in 7 (because why not, right?)