Points by Ben Simmons during Game 3 victory over Nets

Will first time be the charm?

Posted by Eric Fisher On May 28

The Stanley Cup Finals features two teams that aren’t supposed to be here. I certainly didn’t think they were supposed to be here. I picked against both the Golden Knights and the Capitals in two of their three series.

Who could have expected this finals matchup? The Golden Knights are making history by reaching the finals in their first season. The Capitals have never won the Stanley Cup, and their only finals appearance was 20 years ago.

The storylines will be Las Vegas trying to make history and future Hall of Famer Alexander Ovechkin trying to make history. Both teams play a tight defensive style, so goals will be at a premium.

Let’s take a look at the Stanley Cup Finals.


How Capitals got here: They defeated the Blue Jackets in 6 games, eliminated the Penguins in 6 games, and then outlasted the Lightning in 7 games.

How Golden Knights got here: They swept the Kings, eliminated the Sharks in 6 games, and then ousted the Jets in 5 games.

Capitals: The Capitals are in the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time during Alex Ovechkin’s amazing 13-year career. Ovechkin, who led the NHL in scoring with 49 goals, is leading the Capitals during the playoffs with 12 goals. He is second in points to Evgeny Kuznetsov (11 goals, 13 assists), who centers Ovechkin and Tom Wilson (12 points) on the top line. The problem for the Capitals has been scoring depth, but Nicklas Backstrom (4 goals, 12 assists) and T.J. Oshie (7 goals, 8 assists) and Lars Eller (5 goals, 9 assists) have alleviated that burden on Ovechkin and Kuznetsov. Andre Burakovsky scored his first goals of the postseason in Game 7 against the Lightning, which is a good sign for the Capitals. The defense has been terrific. Matt Niskanen and Dmitry Orlov usually draw the opponent’s top line, but Brooks Orpik leads the NHL in plus/minus rating at plus-15. Defenseman John Carlson, with 3 goals and 13 assists, tying Kuznetsov for the team lead, is plus-9. Most of Carlson’s points have come on the Capitals’ lethal power play. Braden Holtby, who regained the starting goalie role from Philipp Grubauer early in the first round, was terrific during the second-round series with the Penguins and magnificent while shutting out the Lightning during Games 6 and 7.

Golden Knights: Doubt the Golden Knights at your own risk. The Golden Knights were surprise winners of the Pacific Division and then surprised some people – including me – by sweeping the Kings during the first round. They have continued to surprise observers throughout the playoffs, needing just 15 games to reach the finals. One reason they finished first in the division and have excelled during the playoffs is goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who posted a career-best .927 save percentage during the regular season. Fleury remains on a roll during the postseason, posting a 1.68 goals-against average and .947 save percentage. Some members of the no-name defense are starting to make a name for themselves, most notably Brayden McNabb and Nate Schmidt, who was acquired from the Capitals during the expansion draft. Former Flyers first-round draft pick Luba Sbisa is part of the Golden Knights’ defense. Jonathan Marchessault (8 goals 10 assists) leads the Golden Knights in playoff scoring. Reilly Smith has been a revelation with a team-high 14 assists (he has 2 goals). Center William Karlsson, who emerged from obscurity with 43 goals and 35 assists during the regular seaosn, has 13 playoff points (6 goals, 7 assists). Pierre-Edouard Bellemare plays a fourth-line role similar to what he did with the Flyers.

Analysis: The Capitals seem like a team of destiny … but so do the Golden Knights. The Capitals have knocked off more impressive teams, but the Golden Knights have expended less energy in advancing. The Capitals have demonstrated tremendous heart throughout three grueling series. That might mean that the Golden Knights have a little more left in their tank. Fleury, who won the Stanley Cup the past two seasons as Matt Murray’s backup, has incentive to win this Cup as a starter. The Capitals have a dangerous power play, but the Golden Knights contained the high-flying Jets, so they should be able to contain the Capitals. Ovechkin is a sentimental pick to win the Cup, but the Golden Knights might be the better story. An expansion team has never won a championship in its inaugural season. Prepare for history. Golden Knights in 7

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