2018 Stanley Cup Final Preview

The Stanley Cup is always compelling, though this year's series has the aspirations of something special. For one, the winner this year will be winning their first Stanley Cup. The Washington Capitals are making their second-ever Stanley Cup appearance, since coming into existence 43 years ago. They've had a ridiculous amount of failure in the last decade, from blown leads to heartbreaking loses, never making it past the second round despite outstanding regular-season records.

Their opponent, the Vegas Golden Knights, are in their first season of play, and many picked them to be last in the entire league. Even their owner said they might be good in three years.

No matter what happens, the Golden Knights already have the title of the best first-year expansion team in pro sports history, and the Caps have slayed some major demons getting past the Penguins and Lightening. Still, winning the Stanley Cup is the ultimate goal.

A Fresh Matchup

The matchup itself is refreshing to many fans, with the Penguins, Blackhawks, and Kings winning eight of the last nine Stanley Cups. Although it's impressive to see these franchises prove themselves as consistent successes, it's great to see fans in Washington finally getting a shot, and new fans in Vegas coming out in droves to support the local heroes.

Plus, it's beneficial for all hockey fans to be able to see Alex Ovechkin in the Stanley Cup, his first time. The best goal scorer of his generation, Ovechkin finally reaches the well-deserved opportunity to play in the championship. Ideally, sports championships should feature some of the best players. This matchup accomplishes that with both sides' impressive rosters. There's no doubt that all fans are happy to see Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, the two longest-tenured Capitals, finally compete for the Stanley Cup. A win would finally put to rest all those "but he doesn't have a cup" arguments when talking about the NHL's best players.

Potential Strategies

Pace control will be essential for both teams, especially for the Caps as they look to defend Vegas Golden Knights' impressive speed. The Caps will need to play complete team defense, as a result. The Caps are 10th out of 16 playoff teams on penalty kill, an area the Golden Knights may seek to exploit.

Strategically, it will be advantageous for the Caps to work on changing looks throughout power plays, while still focusing on Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie. Creative play-calling in power plays may be the difference in the series. The Golden Knights will look to minimize power play damage, though such a task poses challenges consider the other side's imposing scorers, in Ovechkin and Oshie.

A Story of Two Goaltenders

Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury is 22-12-2 all-time against the Capitals, so it will be exciting to see his performance. The Caps will have to be alert in finding rebounds that deflect off Fleury. The story surrounding Fleury himself is a great one. In what's supposed to be the downside of his career, Fleury is proving that aging does not necessarily mean a sacrifice in performance. Fleury is a leader on the team and will play a significant role in the Stanley Cup.

The other side's goaltender is a great one too, despite suffering the worst numbers of his career. The Capitals' Braden Holtby, one of the league's best goalies in the past few years, underwent a benching in the playoffs' first two games. Two periods into the Caps' second game of the first round, Holtby replaced backup-turned-starter Philip Grubauer. Since then, Holtby has been excellent, with highlights being his two shutouts against the Lightning in Games 6 and 7. A loss in either game would have sent the Caps to the golf course, but Holtby didn't allow a single goal. That's clutch.

Potential Outcomes

The Golden Knights are surprisingly a slight betting favorite to win the series at -140, though the series is open to any outcome. There is something to be said for Washington captain Alex Ovechkin essentially looking like he's on a mission to secure the franchise's first championship, and they've relished in the underdog roll this entire playoff. Often, when the matchup seems very close, you give the advantage to the team with the best player on the ice, which is Alex Ovechkin.

Still, the Golden Knights are the favorite for several reasons, despite their Cup odds being 500-1 at one point. The team is riding on a wave of excitement, relishing the underdog and first-timer status throughout the playoffs as they impressively defeat team after team. While the Capitals may be more consistent and seasoned in their scoring approach, the consistency of the Golden Knights combines with the steady goalkeeping of Fleury to lead a team with a good chance of securing the win.

Either way the outcome, it will be surprising if the series does not go six or seven games. This year's Stanley Cups seems like one for the ages.

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