Vegas (51-24-7—109) vs. Washington (49-26-7—105)
How they got here:
Vegas defeated Los Angeles, San Jose and Winnipeg; Washington defeated Columbus, Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay
In a stunning occurrence, the 2018 Stanley Cup Finals features two teams that have never won a title. Washington has been seeking its first championship since entering the NHL in 1974. Its last Finals appearance came in 1998. Vegas, meanwhile, is playing for the Cup in its first season, an occurrence essentially unprecedented in sports history.
Washington enters the Finals after an extremely long wait. The Capitals have appeared to be on the verge of a title run since Alexander Ovechkin’s first few seasons in the NHL. Usually the Pittsburgh Penguins stood in their way, but the Capitals have had some spectacular flameouts. Yet under coach Barry Trotz (coaching for his job this season), the perennial favorites flew under the radar after losing some key pieces in the off-season. The new look Capitals are winning thanks a roster featuring a great combination of top-end stars, young emerging players, and veteran checkers. Ovechkin is an absolute force, while goaltender Braden Holtby got hot at just the right time.
For a team that didn’t have a single player on its roster a year ago, the Golden Knights are way ahead of schedule. A very deep roster, an unstoppable top line, and mononymous star goalie Marc-Andre Fleury are playing with huge chips on their shoulders. “Flower” has been almost unbeatable in the postseason (.947 save percentage, 1.68 goals-against average). He and everyone on the Golden Knights’ roster was either left unprotected by their last team in the expansion draft, or packaged in a trade to ensure a different player wasn’t taken. This group of misfits plays a fearless brand of hockey with speed and determination. After dumping a red-hot and physical Winnipeg team in the Western Conference final, Vegas will be favored to hoist the Cup.
This unlikely matchup will likely come down to which team’s style wins out: Washington’s physical play and timely power play, or Vegas’ speed, aggressiveness and four-line depth. Both goaltenders are playing extremely well. Fleury is the clear Conn Smythe favorite. Holtby posted back-to-back shut outs in the deciding games of the Eastern Conference finals. In what should be a terrific series, I see Washington, riding the wave of a terrific run of beating three great teams in the first three rounds, winning in seven games.