Alex Ovechkin said it best during the NHL’s media day, “I don’t think anyone believed in us, and no one believed in Vegas, but here we are battling for the Stanley Cup.”
After many years of playoff failure, the Washington Capitals were an afterthought at the start of the 2018 season and obviously no one expected an expansion team to be representing the Western Conference in the Finals.
In Ovechkin’s first 12 NHL seasons, the Capitals qualified for the playoffs nine times, but never made it out of the second round despite winning their division on seven occasions. They finally got over the hump and ended a 20-year Stanley Cup Finals appearance drought. If the Capitals are able to take home the Cup, it would be the first Major Sports Championship in Washington, D.C. since the Washington Redskins won the SuperBowl in 1991—a 26-year drought. The City of Las Vegas is just getting into the professional sports game, so their fans obviously aren’t as starved for a Championship.
Neither team is expected to make any changes to their lineups that got them here for Game 1.
Based on the Corsica Player Ratings on our Line Combination Pages, the Golden Knights have the advantage on the first and fourth lines, but the Capitals’ second and third lines have an advantage. Up front, it should be an extremely competitive series–both teams look to be built very similarly.
Brayden McNabb – Nate Schmidt
Deryk Engelland – Shea Theodore
Colin Miller – Luca Sbisa
Michal Kempny – John Carlson
Dmitri Orlov – Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik – Christian Djoos
The Golden Knights’ blueline has outperformed all expectations this season but the Capitals look to have advantage on the back-end. Thanks to the likes of John Carlson and Dmitri Orlov, the Capitals’ blueline is stronger than Vegas, but lacks a bit of depth—and that can be chalked up to the Golden Knights taking Nate Schmidt in the expansion draft.
Marc-Andre Fleury vs. Braden Holtby.
Fleury didn’t have the strongest playoff resume in Pittsburgh, but has been spectacular, leading the Golden Knights to the Stanley Cup Finals. Fleury was 62-51 with a 2.65 GAA and .908 SV% in 113 career starts and two relief appearances in the postseason. This spring, he has gone 12-3 with a 1.68 GAA, .947 SV% and four shutouts in 15 games.
It seems insane that the Capitals started Philipp Grubauer to start the playoffs. After allowing eight goals on 49 shots (.837 SV%), they turned to Holtby. Since taking back the crease, Holtby has gone 12-6 with a 2.04 GAA and .923 SV% and he comes into the Finals having posted back-to-back shutouts in games 6 and 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
You are splitting hairs when trying to compare these two veteran netminders. However, if you were to give an edge, it would have to go to Fleury. He has been out of his mind since the moment he landed in Vegas.