Final primer: Vegas shows early edge over Caps

Two different hockey tales are set to collide Monday when with Vegas Golden Knight host the Washington Capitols in the Stanley Cup Final.

On one end of the ice, we have a team that has seen its fair share of playoff disappointment in its 44 year existence. A rafter full of division and conference champion banners at Capital One Arena offer little solace when one notices that not a single Stanley Cup banner is present with them.
In short, the D.C. fans and players are hungry for a cup. But even as the Caps get prepared to play for it all, many fans refuse to utter the words that have brought them so much grief in the past, so as not to jinx it again- "this is our year."

On the other end, we have the young expansion team that continues to prove the world wrong. Even with the more favorable draft rules, few (if any) saw this run coming from the Golden Knights before the season. Even after they survived 3 consecutive goalie injuries and still managed to win, many  still did not see this coming. EVEN after they made the playoffs and won their division by a hefty margin, Vegas still had several doubters (sorry Ryan Whitney).

Either way, Lord Stanley will be in unfamiliar territory come July.

Both teams are boasting impressive numbers as they come into the final. So much so that it may be difficult to declare a favorite. Las Vegas (city, not the team) currently has the gambling odds on the Golden Knights to take it all, but this could change down the road.

Washington has a lot going for them and has some impressive victories under their belt to prove that they belong here. Knocking out Columbus (a young, but decent squad), Pittsburgh (AKA the Cap killers) and Tampa Bay (a heavy cup favorite) was no easy task.

They accomplished these feats by finally discovering who they are as a team, sticking to a system (that for once involves playing defense) and getting production from players that aren't named Alex Ovechkin.

Don't get me wrong, with 12 goals and 22 points in 19 playoff games, Ovi is playing great. But for the first time in a long time, the Caps game plan isn't simply to dish it to him and hope he scores...
Seen this old gem? Had some truth for a while.
Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie, Nicklas Backstrom, John Carlson and much of the supporting cast is showing up to take the load off. Combine this with some solid goaltending from Braden Holtby and you have what you see now.

Speaking of goaltenders, how can you talk about Vegas getting to where they are now without gushing about the play of Marc-Andre Fleury. Simply put, he's playing like its 2009 (maybe better) and doesn't seem to be stressed one bit. He has the most wins (12) and shutouts (4) of any goalie in the playoffs, plus his .947 save percentage and 1.68 GAA stats are pretty impressive as well. 

If you aren't one of the the crazy conspiracy theorists or history revisionists going around posting that the NHL is rigged or that Vegas drafted an all-star team (it isn't and they didn't FYI), you'll know that  the Golden Knights success continues to come from its depth. 

This is shown by simply taking a look at where the Golden Knight scorers stack up in the player playoff statistics. In overall point totals, only two Vegas players (Jonathan Marchessault with 8 goals & 18 points and Reilly Smith with 2 goals and 16 points) crack the top 20 (Washington has 5 players on that list). By getting this far and only having that many in the top 20 truly shows that the misfits are getting production from all cast members. 

Oh, and for what it's worth (arguably not much), Vegas did win both times these two team met during the regular season. 

Keys to success:

Washington Capitals- Find a way to bring Fleury down to earth, avoid chasing the Knights around when they have the puck and be aggressive in the neutral zone. And if you want to take a page from the Jets- never assume you have the advantage. Vegas strikes fast and can come back quickly if they find themselves behind. 

Vegas Golden Knights- Continue to utilize all four lines and use your strong forecheck in the neutral zone. The Capitals offense is powerful, so your best bet is pressure them hard and let Fleury handle any small defensive mistakes.

Who do you think has the edge? Let us know in the comments!

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