The Stanley Cup Finals are here again with a brand new champion on the horizon. Here are just a few of the storylines that will be both on display and in the background of the next week or two of hockey.
Vegas and the Expansion Draft
Las Vegas is going to have a shot at the Stanley Cup in their expansion year, something that hasn’t happened since the Blues were formed back in 1967. In that series, they were swept by the powerhouse Canadians. This team is vastly different than the Blues of the late 60’s. They weren’t supposed to have a shot at the playoffs. They were supposed to be the new Coyotes of the league. Or in other words, a perennial cellar dweller. Nearly every scout agreed that they had no shot. Even the odds makers in Vegas didn’t give them any real shot, as they were 500-1 odds to win the Cup.
But then they won. They won six of their first seven games this season. They kept winning. Soon, they were in the hunt for the President’s Trophy. Unfortunately, they didn’t the top record in the league. However, they rolled through the playoffs nonetheless. First, they swept the Kings. Then, they took down the Sharks in six games. Finally, they dispatched the Jets in the Conference Finals.
Now they are fighting to do what was seen as impossible nearly a year ago when they were barely a franchise. Their success should off hope for future expansion franchises. Needless to say, the league got it right with Vegas. They needed to hook fans on the idea of desert hockey and they needed to do it as soon as possible. So, why not give them a bunch of mid- and upper-tier depth players to make what would be one of the top teams in the league? Sure enough, that worked well, and Vegas now has a nice following from not only the local residents but also newer hockey fans who wanted a team to follow.
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Marc-Andre Fleury is one of the best goaltenders in the league without a doubt, and would likely be in the Vezina race had he played more games. He has been a part of the last two cup runs for the Penguins, and is now in the hunt for his third cup win in a row. In the regular season, he had a 2.24 goals against average and a .927 save percentage. He’s doing even better in the playoffs, posting a 1.68 GAA and a .947 save percentage. Four of his 12 wins this postseason have come by way of the shutout. Needless to say, he is on an absolute tear right now. If the Knights win the cup, it is on his back.
The Capitals’ Demons
The Capitals were another unlikely team to make the Cup, but for very different reasons. As a follower of the NHL for a few years would tell you, the Caps don’t get past the second round. Despite all the talent they’ve had, they haven’t made the Finals in 20 years, meaning this is Alex Ovechkin’s first Stanley Cup Final appearance. The team has finally exercised its demons, or so it seems. While this season has been a resounding success as compared to the last 15 or so, they still have to win the Cup in order to finally be over the curse of the Capitals. They are going to have to rely heavily on their goalkeeper Braden Holtby if they want to accomplish that goal. This is a team facing a number of offseason decisions so this may be their one and only shot.