The third round of the 2017-18 NHL second season was in a word – intense. There was a seven-game series between Tampa Bay and Washington. Vegas was able to ride timely goal scoring and Marc-Andre Fleury to a Stanley Cup Final berth. Washington was able to outlast Tampa Bay in the seventh game, displaying a kick no one ever saw in previous playoff runs.
The Conference Finals were rather good as expected. Maybe the Vegas series could have gone longer, however, Washington and Tampa Bay made up for it – albeit with an anti-climatic end. Home ice advantage was proven to be overrated in that series as five of the seven games were won by the away team.
Vegas and Washington are still standing after three rounds, which sets up a host of narratives.
Here’s a recap of the Conference Finals with an eye toward the Stanley Cup Final:
Washington Capitals def. Tampa Bay Lightning to win series 4-3
Washington did it again! The question was how the Capitals would respond after dethroning their nemesis. They hit the ground running as they routed Tampa Bay in Tampa Bay. Even strength play was mostly dominated by the Capitals and timely goaltending by Braden Holtby paved the way.
The Lightning were able to strike back in Game 3. They were able to strike on the power play as Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, and Victor Hedman delivered a couple more man advantage goals. At one point, Tampa Bay was 6-14 on the power play in the series. Game 4 was a tour de force by Tampa at even strength and they were rewarded with a few goals as a result. The fifth game featured more of the same as the Capitals were put on the brink. Washington was able to exert its will, particularly in the third period of Game 6. It was a punishing game and Tampa’s speed was all but neutralized at times. It was a series that would go the distance.
The Capitals were stronger at even strength than Tampa Bay, with more slot shots, more high danger scoring chances, and a knack for hemming the Lightning in their zone just enough. Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov were clutch in this series but Ovechkin set the tone early in Game 1 with a patented one timer. That first goal getting past Andrei Vasilevskiy changed the dynamic of the game. Andre Burakovsky would add two goals in the second period which sealed Tampa Bay’s fate. From there, it was Braden Holtby holding down the fort in a 29 save shutout (the back end of back to back shutouts). Washington advanced to its first Stanley Cup Final in 20 years.
Vegas will be a unique challenge with their puck moving style and top six speed. The wildcards will be the depth and the respective penalty kills.
Vegas Golden Knights def. Winnipeg Jets to win series 4-2
Vegas was swallowed up by Winnipeg in Game 1 of this series and some wondered if this was the round where the clock would strike midnight for the Golden Knights. Most of the “experts” would be proven wrong as the top line of Vegas led by Jonathan Marchessault and William Karlsson played a part in three goals in Game 2. Once, home ice advantage was established, Marc-Andre Fleury took over. The key aspect of the series was the Vegas response. Several times Winnipeg and Mark Scheifele would score only to have Vegas strike right back sometimes seconds later. That is a deflating feeling which most teams do not recover from.
Gerard Gallant was able to roll his four lines against Winnipeg and gradually wore down the Jets. When his system failed, his goaltender rose up again and again. Fleury has been able to save almost 18 goals more than the average playoff goaltender through three rounds. If he was closer to average, Vegas would have been eliminated maybe in Round 1.
This was not an easy series to predict. However, the top line of Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith, and William Karlsson decided it along with Marc-Andre Fleury. Vegas’s top line was clutch, but the game winner was scored by the fourth line (Ryan Reaves). The Golden Knights also were tenacious and physical. They were able to wear down the Jets in Game 5. When a team can dominate and eliminate another in their building in a deciding game, that speaks volumes.
Marc-Andre Fleury sported a .938 save percentage in this series after stopping 151 of 161 shots. Basically after Game 1, Fleury yielded just six goals in the four wins. Washington’s ability to claw back into series is something Vegas has not faced yet.
Vegas has faced greater odds before.
Welcome to the Stanley Cup Final.
The Final of the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin Monday night with Vegas facing Washington. Here’s a brief look at the bouts with schedule and television broadcast information:
Vegas Golden Knights vs. Washington Capitals
Monday, May 28, 8 p.m.: Capitals @ Golden Knights | NBC, CBC, SN, TVA Sports
Wednesday, May 30, 8 p.m.: Capitals @ Golden Knights | NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVA Sports
Saturday, June 2, 8 p.m.: Golden Knights @ Capitals | NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVA Sports
Monday, June 4, 8 p.m.: Golden Knights @ Capitals | NBC, CBC, SN, TVA Sports
*Thursday, June 7, 8 p.m.: Capitals @ Golden Knights | NBC, CBC, SN, TVA Sports
*Sunday, June 10, 8 p.m.: Golden Knights @ Capitals | NBC, CBC, SN, TVA Sports
*Wednesday, June 13, 8 p.m.: Capitals @ Golden Knights | NBC, CBC, SN, TVA Sports
* – if necessary
The Skinny: Vegas matches up reasonably well against Washington. These are the two top scoring teams in the playoffs (Washington – 3.25 goals per game, Vegas – 3.22 goals per contest). Braden Holtby’s resiliency was noted via his back to back shutouts to close out Tampa. However, Washington and Vegas expect to be quite a chess match. Washington needs their depth scoring to at least be a presence in this series. Anything less will result in a shorter series. The Capitals can play as heavy of a game as Vegas and that is vital also. Expect there to be a bit more pace in this series.
On the other hand, Vegas has shown an ability to bottle things up as well. They slowed down Winnipeg much the way they did San Jose. Washington’s top line has been excellent for the first three rounds. Does that slow down? Better yet, will Washington be able to solve Marc-Andre Fleury? One game will not be enough. Washington must find a way to score three or more goals on Fleury in at least three games this series. The thought process is that they can especially if Washington’s bottom six plays the way they did in Game 6 and 7 versus Tampa Bay. Vegas wins this series if they can muster some power play goals much like Tampa did.
One can argue that Vegas is a little better at even strength than Tampa Bay. If Marc-Andre Fleury plays like he has in postseason match-ups against Washington in the past, then that spells glory for Vegas. If not, then Washington and Alex Ovechkin will finally raise the most cherished trophy in sports.
Prediction: Washington in six.
For a few more numbers, check out this article on the quick nuts and bolts of the Stanley Cup Final.
Written by Chris Wassel / @ChrisWasselDFS
Special to HockeyClan
Main Image: Deryk Engelland #5 of the Vegas Golden Knights celebrates with the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl after defeating the Winnipeg Jets 2-1 in Game Five of the Western Conference Finals to advance to the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Bell MTS Place on May 20, 2018 in Winnipeg, Canada. (Photo by Jason Halstead/Getty Images)
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