There will be a new team etched in silver when the 2018 Stanley Cup Final is all said and done.
Will it be the Washington Capitals, who have waited 43 long seasons to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup? Or will it be the Vegas Golden Knights capping off an expansion season like no other?
Let’s take a look at how the Stanley Cup Final breaks down.
How they got here
Vegas: The Knights swept the Kings in the first round and then proceeded to make quick work of the Sharks and Jets to advance to the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season.
Washington: After dropping the first two games of their opening round series in overtime, the Capitals won four straight to defeat the Blue Jackets. They kept the momentum going by ousting the Penguins in six before outlasting the Lightning in an intense seven game series to advance to just their second Stanley Cup Final in 44 seasons.
Vegas: Led by William Karlsson (six goals, seven assists), Reilly Smith (two goals, 14 assists) and Jonathan Marchessault (eight goals, 10 assists), the Golden Knights possess one of the fastest first lines in the NHL. Veterans Erik Haula, James Neal and David Perron provide them with second line stability. Their third line of Cody Eakin, Ryan Carpenter and Alex Tuch has the speed and strength to cause matchup problems with the opposing team’s third line. Ryan Reaves, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Tomas Nosek complete the forward group for Vegas.
Washington: Alexander Ovechkin (10 goals, 12 assists) and Evgeny Kuznetsov (11 goals, 13 assists) have been spectacular this postseason. Linemate Tom Wilson is coming off an outstanding Tampa Bay series in which he brought his patented physicality and provided timely offense. The Capitals second line of Nicklas Backstrom, TJ Oshie and Jakub Vrana is nearly as strong as its first. Lars Eller is playing with confidence as he continues to put forward his best hockey at the right time, while Andre Burakovsky finally had his breakout game of the postseason in Game 7 against Tampa Bay. Brett Connolly, Jay Beagle, Devante Smith-Pelly, Chandler Stephenson and Alex Chiasson round out the forward group for DC.
Advantage: Washington. Vegas primarily relies on their first line for offense, while the Capitals have received a high level of production from all four of their lines this postseason.
Vegas: The Golden Knights do not have a true number one defenseman, instead they have six men who play well together. Former Capitals defenseman Nate Schmidt has been their most reliable and consistent defender all season. Brayden McNabb has been a hitting machine this postseason and journeyman Deryk Engelland has been invaluable on the penalty kill. Shea Theodore and Colin Miller have shown signs of development this postseason and veteran Luca Sbisa has been productive since returning from injury in the second round.
Washington: In his contract year, John Carlson continues to prove he is an elite two-way defenseman. He has 16 points in 19 appearances while logging nearly 26 minutes of ice time a game. Carlson is paired with Michal Kempny who has been solid this postseason. Dmitry Orlov has excelled at moving the puck for Washington, while partner Matt Niskanen has stopped a number of goal scoring opportunities from getting to Braden Holtby. Vegas will look to exploit the third pairing of Brooks Orpik and Christian Djoos with their speed.
Advantage: Washington, slightly. The age-old debate between quantity and quality will be exemplified in this series. Vegas has six capable guys, but the Capitals have an elite defender and two veteran defensemen who have been in this position before. For that reason, I’ll give the Caps the slight edge here.
Vegas: With a .947 save percentage and a 1.68 goals-against-average, Marc-Andre Fleury is playing the best hockey of his life. The former Penguins netminder is playing in the Stanley Cup Final for the third straight season and fifth time of his career.
Washington: Braden Holtby has been sensational this postseason, posting a 12-6 record with a 2.04 goals-against-average and a 9.24 save percentage. The 2016 Vezina Trophy winner enters the Final after two straight shutouts.
Advantage: Vegas. Holtby is having the best postseason of his career, but Fleury has been nothing short of spectacular this postseason.
Vegas: The Knights only have a power play percentage of 17.6%, but they boast a penalty kill percentage of 82.5%.
Washington: The Capitals are second in the playoffs with a power play percentage of 28.8% on 59 opportunities. Backstrom and Kuznetsov facilitate the puck with brilliance. TJ Oshie works his magic in the slot and OV is lights out from the circle. Their penalty kill percentage currently sits at 75.4%, although, in fairness, they faced two of the top three power play units in the NHL in Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay.
Vegas: William Carrier and Malcolm Subban remain out for the Golden Knights
Washington: For the first time all playoffs, the Capitals are completely healthy
Vegas: Marc-Andre Fleury. This is a no-brainer.
Washington: Tom Wilson. He can score, he can hit, and he is capable of changing the momentum of the game with his enthusiasm and energy.
Washington in six. This Capitals team looks poised to lift Lord Stanley’s Cup, but if they are going to do so, they must break through the brick wall that Marc-Andre Fleury has put up this postseason.