The Vegas Golden Knights and the Washington Capitals will meet in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final and it is exactly what the game of hockey needs. For the first time since 1999*, the two teams in the Final will be competing for their first Cup. This breath of fresh air in the Stanley Cup Final has brought a sense of excitement to the game’s final playoff series considering the champion won’t be the Penguins or Blackhawks who have won six of the past nine Stanley Cups.
This Stanley Cup Final will look fresh and new and will bring two franchises, one old and one very new, an opportunity to capture glory. Here are some of the top reasons why this Stanley Cup Final will be the best the NHL has seen in a long time.
Vegas’ improbable and maybe even miraculous run to the final summit
The Vegas Golden Knights have somehow made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final in their very first season. This is the third time ever in NHL history that a first-year team is going to make it to their respective Final. The other two came from the St. Louis Blues in 1968 where it was guaranteed that an expansion team would go to the Final and the Toronto Arenas exactly one-hundred years ago.
Vegas shattered records all season long and surprised even the best minds of the hockey world to get to where they now stand. What we are looking at is probably one of the greatest stories in all of sports. They are by far the most successful expansion team in any sport ever and it’s not even close. All of this is even more incredible considering the Golden Knights weren’t given any chance at the beginning of the season to do anything at all. Truly a Cinderella story.
Alex Ovechkin will finally play in a Stanley Cup Final
Alex Ovechkin has played 1,003 games in the NHL and has just now reached his very first Final. Victim to choking in the playoffs in years prior, both Ovechkin and his Washington Capitals have never met expectations in the playoffs but now that they were considered just another dog in the fight, they have a date with the Stanley Cup Final.
Ovechkin’s career rival, Sidney Crosby, has won three rings to Ovechkin’s zero. Each time Crosby has won a Stanley Cup, he has defeated Ovechkin to get there. The spotlight constantly on the Penguins and their championship winning abilities, Ovechkin finally exercised some Crosby captained black and yellow demons to get to the Stanley Cup Final defeating the two-time defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins in six games.
In addition to all of that, Alex Ovechkin could be the very first Russian to captain his team all the way to the Stanley Cup Championship.
The Capitals players are finally playing like they should in the playoffs
In years past it has been common problems. The Capitals stars are not producing like they should be. The Capitals are failing in the playoffs because all offensive responsibility is being put on Ovechkin. The Capitals have no depth and have to rely on their stars to win games. This year is a different story.
Seven different Capitals players have over 10 points in the first 19 games of their playoff run. Including Kusnetsov and Ovechkin who have over 20 points. Devante Smith-Pelly who is considered a big, physical role player has just as many goals as Nicklas Backstrom at four. Four different Capitals have at least 10 assists.
The Capitals are getting contributions from everyone not only on the offensive side of the game but on the defensive side as well. Nine Capitals are at least a plus five which means almost half the roster is doing an effective job at keeping the puck out of their own net. Not to mention Braden Holtby who has been nothing short of spectacular with a .924 save percentage including back to back shutouts in game six and seven of the conference final.
In terms of production, everything is as it should be and should have been the past few years and this is the main reason the Capitals find themselves four wins away from their first Cup.
Fleury is back on top
After being left unprotected by the Pittsburgh Penguins for the expansion draft, Marc-Andre Fleury has looked like his old self. Matt Murray was taking over in Pittsburgh as the new goaltender which led Penguins favorite, Marc-Andre Fleury, looking for a new home.
He found one in Vegas and one year later he is on his way to a possible Conn Smythe trophy and more importantly a fourth Stanley Cup. Going from a franchise player in one city to leading a brand new one to the Final in their inaugural season is incredibly special.
Fleury looks like the goaltender of 2008 and 2009 when the Penguins went to back to back Stanley Cup Finals winning in 2009.
The Capitals can finally celebrate not choking in the playoffs
Against everyone’s honest predictions, the Capitals didn’t lose to the Blue Jackets in the first round, the Penguins in the second round or the Lightning in the third round. Somehow, they have leaped over all of those hurdles to reach the Final.
The biggest hurdles being the Penguins who they defeated in six games in the second round. And a game seven which they won in dominant fashion 4-0 against the Lightning in the conference finals.
Win or lose against Vegas, there is certainly a lot to be proud of for this team. They have exercised multiple demons throughout their playoff run and are now ready to take on the final foe. This being their first Stanley Cup Final in twenty years, there is certainly a lot to celebrate but the work isn’t done quite yet.
Whatever happens in this final playoff series of 2018, it will be a good one. Two teams that have defied the odds to make it here are ready to battle it out for the greatest prize in hockey. It’s a breath of fresh air for the NHL and a new look to a future NHL that does not belong to champions of the past.
*In 2007, the Ducks and Senators met in the Final and neither had won a Stanley Cup however in 1927 the Ottawa Senators won the Cup. In 1992, the franchise was reintroduced under the same name and city even though technically it was considered a brand-new franchise.