After a month-and-a-half of intense playoff hockey, we're here. Tonight the Washington Capitals and the Vegas Golden Knights face off in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final! If you predicted this matchup at the start of the season, you must be some kind of time traveller. Because literally no one saw this coming.
Still, these are two deserving, well-matched squads. And excitingly, both are looking for their first-ever Stanley Cup! Of course, how they each got to this point could not have been more different.
Winning the Cup takes years of patience
Since drafting Russian winger Alexander "Ovie" Ovechkin in 2004, Washington has won three Presidents' Trophies as the best team in the regular season. Ovie himself has become the greatest goal scorer of this generation—over 600 goals scored and counting. So why no Cups?
Year after year, the Caps would go from unstoppable in the regular season to falling apart in the playoffs. Meanwhile, Ovie's biggest nemesis, Sidney Crosby? His Penguins won three Stanley Cups, as well as defeating Washington all three times they met each other during the playoffs.
Fast forward to 2018. Ovie's hair is now streaked with grey. His team's regular season has been good, but not great. Their usual starting goalie, Brayden Holtby, is struggling. And what's this? Washington meets Pittsburgh again in the second round? Ugh! They never beat the Penguins, everyone says.
And yet, this time they do. Somehow, the Capitals not only overcome Pittsburgh, they take down a very powerful Tampa Bay Lightning team in round three to reach the place that Ovechkin has never been: The Stanley Cup Final. Finally!
Winning the Cup? Doesn't every team do that first try?
On the other hand, in their first year in the league the Vegas Golden Knights are in the Stanley Cup Final. Just how weird is that?
13 of the current teams have never won a Cup. Four of those teams have never even been to the final. The Arizona Coyotes franchise has been in the league since 1979—that's almost 40 years without a final appearance.
That's why it seems almost impossible to believe that Vegas is here now. It was only last June that Vegas chose its team by picking from the other teams' "unwanted" players in the expansion draft. How good could a team of castaways be?
But this is a really good team with just the right mix of proven performers and young, emerging players. Even more interesting? The Golden Knights are full of ghosts from Washington's recent past. (Spooky!)
Defenseman Nate Schmidt, who was released by the Caps into the expansion draft, has been great on Vegas. Winger James Neal and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury haunted Washington for years during their time in Pittsburgh. And Vegas' general manager? That's George McPhee who just happened to last be the GM of, yep, the Capitals until he was fired in 2014.
"________ has won their first-ever Stanley Cup!"
How will this sentence be completed? Will George McPhee get swift revenge against the team that let him go? Will a team with Marc-Andre Fleury in net once again be too much for Washington to handle?
Or will a determined Ovechkin lead teammates Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov to the title he's spent 12 years chasing?
Either way, it's going to make for an eye-catching, history-making series!