Tonight is the night that the NHL Stanley Cup Finals begin where the Washington Capitals will face off against the Las Vegas Golden Knights tonight at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas at 8:00pm EST. Also last night the 100th MasterCard Memorial Cup Finished off as the Acadie-Bathurst Titans defeated the host team Regina Pats with a score of 3-0, with the QMJHL Champion Titans becoming the 100th team to win the cup and become CHL champions.
This is a Stanley Cup final where only three players that have been to the finals before in Las Vegas’s James Neal and Marc-Andre Fleury and Washington’s Brooks Orpik, with Fleury and Orpik both being the only players who have won the Stanley Cup both with Pittsburgh. Don’t be surprised if this series leads to a game 7 as both teams have had strong play throughout the regular season and the Stanley Cup playoffs. Vegas has looked a little more intimidating though, throughout the course of the playoffs, sweeping the playoff experienced Los Angeles Kings in the first round and taking out the second best team during the regular season, the Winnipeg Jets, 3-1. Washington had to take on a couple of heavyweight teams in their own right with the back-to-back champs the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Tampa Bay Lightning who have consistently stayed atop the league standings the past couple of seasons.
The Capitals are lead by Alexander Ovechkin, who despite his superstar career were he has won several individual accolades and accomplished many great milestones, ha to yet made it to the Stanley cup Finals. The Capitals do feature a deeper roster then Golden Knights, both defensively and offensively. The key difference maker for Washington is going to be Evgeny Kuznetsov who is projected to be their first line center with Ovechkin and Tom Wilson on his wings. Kuznetsov has led the league in scoring for the playoffs with 24 points (11 G, 13 A) in 19 games for the Capitals and if he can keep up his strong play with Ovechkin as one of his wings, it could lead for a huge assist for Washington for the two have a combined for 46 points (23 G, 23 A) in 19 playoff games. Washington also boats a strong defensive unit backed by starting goals Braden Holtby and backup Philipp Grubauer who had a 0.923 save percentage in 35 games for the capitals. Washington is going to need to keep up their strong 5-on-5 play and their power play throughout this series and play a fast game if they want to get the four wins that will win the cup. Throughout their 44 year history in the league the Capitals have only made it to the finals once and have never won the Stanley Cup.
Las Vegas Golden Knights is a team that have left everyone scratching their heads, for a first year team to be in the position they are in is unheard of and completely unexpected. I’m still trying to make sense of it all, but my guess is that they didn’t have the best players, but the right grouping of players. Lead by veteran goaltender and 3 time Stanley Cup Champion Mrc-Andre Fleury and young forward William Karlsson, who amassed 43 goals this season, Las Vegas hopes to keeping shocking the world and make history with a Stanley Cup in their inaugural season. So far in the playoffs Vegas has been really good with the 5-on-5 play as they have outscored all three of their playoff opponents by a combined 30-14 in use 15 games and boasting a 12-3 playoff record so far. The key difference maker for this team is going to be defenseman Nate Schmidt, who is arguably Vegas’s top defenseman. The 26 year old had spent his entire professional career with he Capitals, before being acquired by the Golden Knights in the expansion drat last summer. Coming off a career high 36 points in the regular season, Schmidt is going to need to keep playing the way he has been and help provide his team with insight on the Capitals. If Vegas plays the way they have been they will have little trouble winning the Stanley Cup in their first season as a franchise.
The Golden Knights and Capitals faced each other twice during the regular season, with Vegas winning both contests and Vegas paced Washington by four points in the standing with 109. It looks to be all Vegas, however, the Capitals has a more deeper and talented roster all around including two strong goalies in Holtby and Grubauer. This is a tough call to make and I do think it will go to a game six with the Golden Knights taking home the trophy, but there is no 100% clear winner in my book and I wouldn’t mind if the Caps proved me wrong.
In other news around the hockey world, the NHL draft combine is currently taking place in Buffalo, NY. The combine began May 27 and will run through June 2 as top NHL prospects for the 2018 draft engage in performance tests, and display their skill, personality, and character. It will also feature the top two prospects for the draft in Barrie Colts (OHL) forward Andrei Svechnikov and Frolunda (SweHL) defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, who is projected to be the number one pick in the draft this June.