Stanley Cup Capsule
WASHINGTON CAPITALS vs. VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS
CONFERENCE FINALS: Capitals beat Tampa Bay Lightning in 7. Golden Knights beat Winnipeg Jets in 5.
SEASON SERIES: Vegas 2-0.
STORY LINE: The Capitals finally made the Stanley Cup Final with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom after losing in the first or second round in their past nine playoff appearances. This team was considered weaker on paper than the past two years when Washington won the Presidents’ Trophy and lost to the eventual Cup-champion Pittsburgh Penguins. Ovechkin has a career-high 22 points on 12 goals and 10 assists after leading the NHL with 49 goals during the regular season. Linemate Evgeny Kuznetsov has a franchise-record 24 playoff points through 19 games, including the overtime series winner against Pittsburgh. Goaltender Braden Holtby did not start the first two games of the playoffs but is 12-6 with a 2.04 goals-against average and .924 save percentage since replacing Philipp Grubauer. Coach Barry Trotz does not have a contract for next season but has arguably done the best job of his 19-year career. Trotz had not made it past the second round until this year. … Vegas general manager George McPhee spent 17 years in that job with the Capitals from 1997-2014. He was GM when they last made the final in 1998 but is also responsible for acquiring 14 players on the current roster and was succeeded by long-time friend and colleague Brian MacLellan. Vegas in the Cup Final in its inaugural season, the first to do it since the 1967-68 St. Louis Blues when all six expansion teams were in the same division. The expansion Golden Knights have lost only three games through three rounds thanks to the play of goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and the top line of Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson and Reilly Smith. Fleury has a 1.68 GAA and .947 save percentage a year after helping the Penguins win the Cup. Former Capitals defenseman Nate Schmidt leads Vegas in ice time at almost 25 minutes a game.
WASHINGTON’S KEY PLAYER: Ovechkin. This is the chance to shed the label as hockey’s greatest player who has never won the Cup. He has looked like a man on a mission all playoffs, throwing his body around and producing at a level that has lifted the Capitals to new heights. MacLellan believes this is the most within the system Ovechkin has ever played a season after scoring just 33 goals with the benefit being a long playoff run.
VEGAS’ KEY PLAYER: Fleury. The 33-year-old first face of the new franchise has been as advertised and then some, especially in the playoffs. Fleury frustrated Los Angeles, San Jose and Winnipeg on the way to the final and is having some of the best success of his career. He already eliminated the Capitals in 2009 and 2017 on the way to winning the Cup and will have to be at his best to do it again.
GAME 1: Monday, 8 p.m. Eastern.
PREDICTION: Capitals in 7.
– AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno.
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