Remember when the Washington Capitals‘ window was supposed to be closed? Remember when expansion teams were supposed to suck?
Well, here we are getting ready for the 2018 Stanley Cup final between the Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights. Never bet on hockey. Ever. Unless you bet on Vegas to play Washington for the Cup and are reading this article from the comfort of your newly-purchased private jet.
If there’s anything we’ve learned from this NHL season and these Stanley Cup Playoffs, it’s that you can expect the unexpected. How can you possibly predict how a series that nobody predicted would happen will play out?
Here are a few statistical snacks for you to munch on while we wait for mayhem.
The Capitals played the Golden Knights twice this season. Vegas won both times.
The first game was a 3-0 Vegas victory on Dec. 23. Alex Tuch, Oscar Lindberg, and William Karlsson all scored against Braden Holtby in the first period while Marc-Andre Fleury picked up the shutout win.
In fairness to the Capitals, Vegas not only had home-ice advantage in that game but the rest advantage, as well. Washington lost in overtime to the Arizona Coyotes just the night before while the Golden Knights had three straight days off; ironically after beating the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-3.
The second game on Feb. 4 was much more even. Both teams had the Saturday off before meeting the following day.
The Capitals took the lead in the first, but Vegas tied it. The Capitals took the lead in the second, but Vegas tied it again. The Capitals took the lead in the third, only for Vegas to tie it yet again at 3-3 before Tuch scored the eventual game-winning goal for the 4-3 victory. Fleury picked up the win again while this time it was Philipp Grubauer taking the loss for Washington.
Alex Ovechkin didn’t register a point in either game, which means he’s never scored a goal against the newest NHL team. Vegas’ Nate Schmidt managed to get an assist against his former team, though.
Vegas is coming off a five-game series while Washington’s matchup with the Lightning went the distance.
The Sportsnet Stats department dug up this gem: There have been 10 Stanley Cup finals when a team that played seven games in the previous series faced an opponent that was coming off a five-game round.
In this scenario, it’s a 5-5 split. A team that played seven won just as many times as a team coming off of a five-game series. It’s worth mentioning however, that the team that played in Game 7 has won four straight Stanley Cups:
- The New York Rangers beat the Vancouver Canucks in 1994.
- The Dallas Stars beat the Buffalo Sabres in 1999.
- The Carolina Hurricanes beat the Edmonton Oilers in 2006.
- The Boston Bruins beat the Canucks in 2011.
Ironically in 2011 it was Tampa Bay losing to Boston in the Eastern Conference final. Can the Capitals do the same?
The Capitals took 19 games to advance to the Stanley Cup final while the Golden Knights only needed 15. Between their first-round sweep of the Los Angeles Kings and their eight days off before facing Washington, it seems like Vegas has gotten a decent amount of rest.
Another Sportsnet Stats gem: Since 2006, the 2012 Kings had the most combined days off (35) from their first playoff game to Game 1 of the Cup final.
The next three closest teams are in a three-way tie:
- The 2007 Ottawa Senators had 32 days off: They lost the Cup final to the Anaheim Ducks.
- The 2015 Chicago Blackhawks had 32 days off: They won the Cup.
- The 2018 Golden Knights had 32 days off: Will they win the Cup? We’re about to find out.
Who has the advantage? That depends on how you want to look at it. Vegas is more rested. Washington will be going in with fresh momentum. Neither team really has history on their side. In fact, the Golden Knights have no history at all.
One thing is for certain: Somebody is about to win the Stanley Cup for the first time.
Will Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals finally get their Cup, or will Vegas pull off the impossible?
For two teams that were counted out in one form or another, this is the sports definition of playing with house money.