Stanley Cup Final capsule
Washington Capitals (49-26-7) vs. Vegas Golden Knights (51-24-7)
How they got here:
• Washington eliminated the Blue Jackets in six games, the Penguins in six and the Lightning in seven
• Vegas eliminated the Kings in four games, the Sharks in six and the Jets in five
Postseason statistical leaders:
Evgeny Kuznetsov (11G, 13A; 24 pts); Alexander Ovechkin (12-10--22); Nicklas Backstrom (4-12--16); John Carlson (3-13--16)
Goalie: Braden Holtby (12-6, .924 save pct., 2.04 goals allowed)
Jonathan Marchessault (8-10--18); Reilly Smith (2-14--16); William Karlsson (6-7--13)
Goalie: Marc-Andre Fleury (12-3, .947, 1.68)
The unthinkable has happened.
The Vegas Golden Knights -- a team without a player 15 months ago -- took the NHL by storm this season, never slowed down in the playoffs and became the second expansion team to reach the Stanley Cup Final in their first season. (And, really, are we counting the 1968 St. Louis Blues? An expansion team was automatically going to reach the Final that year because they played each other in their own bracket).
The Golden Knights have been so much fun to watch in this postseason. They play with such relentlessness. Such passion. Such energy. And with such discipline. From their top defenseman to their last, from their top line to the fourth, nobody is taking a shift off and opponents are finding it next to impossible to generate scoring chances. Watch the way they lift sticks. Backcheck hard. Cut off passing lanes. It's a sight to see. Especially keep your eye on defenseman Nate Schmidt. He played 132 games for the Capitals the last two seasons and has turned into one of the best blue liners in the league.
Vegas must do a better job of staying out of the penalty box in this series. The Golden Knights are giving opponents 3.8 power-play chances in the postseason and that's a recipe for disaster against a Washington squad that has converted on 17 of 59 opportunities.
As impressive as the Golden Knights have been, it seems like Washington is on a mission. After FINALLY getting past the hated Pittsburgh Penguins in the conference semis, Alexander Ovechkin and Co. proceeded to overcome a 3-2 series deficit to Tampa Bay to reach the Final. The Capitals pulled off the feat thanks to Braden Holtby pitching back-to-back shutouts in Games 6 and 7.
Ovechkin can't win this thing by himself, but he obviously must be a difference-maker, especially on the power play. The Capitals have a lot more than Ovechkin, though, as they come at you with nine other players who scored at least 12 goals this season. Evgeny Kuznetsov (66 goals last three seasons), Nicklas Backstrom (64 last three), T.J. Oshie (77 last three) and D-men John Carlson (15G, 53A this season) and Dmitry Orlov (10G) won't be easy to stop.
Since January, I've been saying Vegas is going to win the whole thing. While it won't be easy to vanquish the Capitals, I just think the Golden Knights are the best team in the NHL. They'll carry off the Cup after a thrilling 3-2 victory in Game 7.