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Stanley Cup Finals Preview

If you aren’t excited now, get your popcorn ready.

NHL: Vegas Golden Knights at Washington Capitals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

No offense Pittsburgh, LA and Chicago (you know what, I take that back – major offense!) I’m sick of watching the same teams win the Stanley Cup. Sure we hit some firsts (LA in 2012 winning for the first time in the team’s 45 year history) and some long time comings (Chicago’s 2010 Stanley Cup victory snapping a 49 year drought), and Pittsburgh, well, you get no love, you’ve have five Stanley Cups in the last 25 years, more than any other team over that time. It’s just boring to watch the same teams win the Stanley Cup,the same five teams won the last ten cups and the same 16 teams took the last 40 cups. It’s time to dial back to 2004 – 2007 when seasons were cancelled due to lockouts, salary caps were implemented and we had some authentic first time winners: Tampa Bay Lightning (2004), Season Cancelled (2005), Carolina Hurricanes (2006) and Anaheim Ducks (2007). It’s funny, in hindsight I remember snippets of the last 10 years Stanley Cup finals, a bit about Jonathan Quick helping the Kings or Patrick Kane scoring the game winner in the Blackhawks first cup in 2010 or Rob Scuderi dropping to block Nicklas Lidstrom’s shot from the point in the waning seconds of game 7 in the 2009 Stanley Cup in or even Marion Hossa losing in musical chairs with Pittsburgh in 2008 and Detroit in 2009 before winning with Chicago in 2010 and then 2013 and then 2015. In contrast, I vividly remember 2004 – 2007 whether it was the power line of Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier and Brad Richards dictate the 2004 playoffs with Nikolai Khabibulin (the “Bulin-Wall”) in net or Rod Brind’Amour and Eric Staal (during his 100point season) in their own Cinderella story ahead of Cam Ward in net for the Canes and finally the unbelievable Jean-Sebastian Giguere posting a 1.97 GAA with a .922 for the Ducks in 2007.

This year, we have a guarantee of seeing a first time Stanley Cup Champion, that is a cool thing to have, 13 NHL teams do not have a Stanley Cup win – Arizona Coyotes, Buffalo Sabres, Winnipeg Jets, Columbus Blue Jackets, Florida Panthers, Nashville Predators, Minnesota Wild, Ottawa Senators, San Jose Sharks, St. Louis Blues, Vegas Golden Knights, Washington Capitals and Vancouver Canucks. In case anyone was curious, this also eliminates one of the five teams who have never been to a Stanley Cup Finals, Arizona Coyotes, Winnipeg Jets, Columbus Blue Jackets, Minnesota Wild and Vegas Golden Knights. I wrote earlier this season how exciting the last few years have been in that regard as other names including the San Jose Sharks and Nashville Predators were taken off that list in the last 2 years. If we were to take this down a step further, there is just one team who has yet to win an NHL post season series – Columbus Blue Jackets who had arguably their best ever post season this year leading Washington two games to none before Braden Holtby stepped in and Washington swept the next four straight games. You will notice a handful of recent expansion teams who have yet to make it to Stanley Cup finals, the reason for any angst from fans against the Vegas Golden Knights this year.

The Teams:

With a dominant game 7 win the Washington Capitals advance to their second ever Stanley Cup finals and first time since getting swept by Detroit in 1998. They come in with Evgency Kuznetsov who leads the league in post season points (24), Alex Ovechkin is second in post season points (22) and TJ Oshie is currently seventh in post season points (7) with five of those seven coming on the power play. Washington will be tested in the finals on special teams, they come in with 17 power play goals, good enough for 29% on the power play as they go up against Vegas who has the fourth best PK unit across all of the post season teams at 82.5%. They have shown the ability to overcome deficits and find ways to beat their opponents being down two games to none to Columbus and on the brink of elimination against the Tampa Bay Lightning before strong games six and seven not to mention finally overcoming the double hurdle of getting to the conference finals by beating arch nemesis Pittsburgh who has had their number the last four meetings in the post season giving Sidney Crosby a perfect record against Alex Ovechkin in the playoffs.

Vegas meanwhile comes in with a plethora of potential records both behind and ahead of them. Coming in as 500-1 odds to win the Stanley Cup, they essential broke every and all records that existed for a franchise team to this point. They could do two very cool things with a short tenured Stanley Cup win. First they can become the first expansion team in any sport to win their championship in their inception year in the last 68 years. Second, if they win in a sweep, they will have won the Stanley Cup in the fewest number of games (19 games or less) in 30 years or at least since Edmonton Oilers won in 18 games in 1988. Vegas boasts three time Stanley Cup winning Marc-Andre Fleury who currently sits on a 1.68 GAA (2nd in the NHL) and .947 save percentage (2nd in the NHL). They will have the support of anyone who is hoping for the ultimate Cinderella story and the hatred of most fans of expansion teams given their larger pool of players and ultimately better launch point then predecessors saw coming into their inaugural season.

What you can expect.

Both teams play a high octane fore-checking brand of hockey with strong offensive powers and the chance to create turnovers and odd man rushes at the blink of an eye. Meanwhile, their net minders are equally dominant posting the top spots in most of the major categories this post season. So essentially I’m saying both teams are good on offense and defense, real compelling analysis there eh? You’re right, let me dig a bit further, expect Vegas to be pressuring Washington constantly like a mosquito that won’t persist, by doing this they will force turnovers down low or in the mess of play and try to capitalize on that. Vegas is much less top heavy and more deep than Washington is so each line will be expected to pull some weight in the team effort. Expect Washington to be more tactful waiting for turnovers on errant passes or bad strategic play getting caught in the corner or trying to handle the puck and capitalizing on moving the puck and finding the right windows to take their shots. They will make Vegas pay on any penalties taken and will be physical on all fronts having four of the top five players in hits this post season (Tom Wilson, Alex Ovechkin, Davante Smith-Pelly and Brooks Orpik).

Players to watch.

Forwards - obviously Alex Ovechkin will garnish much of the attention but Jonathan Marchessault, who has played with four different teams in five seasons, comes in leading Vegas in scoring with 18 points while Reilly Smith, who was traded to Vegas by Florida to TAKE Jonathan Marchessault and avoid some other potential players is in second with 16 points. William Karlsson, who went form six goals last year to 43 this year is third with 13 points, James Neal has a handful of goals to go with a boat load of shots (a few will trickle in soon here) Alex Tuch from Minnesota is on the flip side of Neal scoring on 20% of his shots and finally David Perron has yet to score but has seven helpers. Washington has plenty behind Ovechkin, Kuznetsov is a balanced player, TJ Oshie will be a threat on the power play, Lars Eller is having a career post season, Nicklas Backstrom is fighting through injuries to continue his expert passing and Davante Smith-Pelly has showed his scoring to go along with his physical presence.

Goalies – Fluery has the edge in stats, and experience on this stage and shutouts and saves and seemingly every stat or other category he could have over Braden Holtby. With that said, I’m certainly not counting out Braden Holtby who stepped in when Washington was down two games to none against Columbus and has since gone 12-6 with 2.04 GAA (second best among qualified goalies) and a .924 save percentage (3rd best among goalies with more than 2 starts this post season). In addition to this, Washington has the edge on defensemen and Fluery will be likely seeing more shots than Holtby.

My prediction (since my previous prediction of Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Winnipeg Jets went so well)

Vegas wins in 5 games. Either way, I’m very excited to see some good hockey.


Who wins the Stanley Cup?

This poll is closed

  • 71%
    Vegas Golden Knights
    (5 votes)
  • 28%
    Washington Capitals
    (2 votes)
7 votes total Vote Now