Looking back at the 2017-18 Stanley Cup Finals

Last night the Washington Capitals defeated the Vegas Golden Knights in a thrilling 4-3 game to clinch their first Stanley Cup in franchise history. Following a decade of disappointment in the playoffs, Washington overcame all their old roadblocks on the way to winning the Cup.

The Capitals were down 2-0, having lost both games at home in the first-round against the Columbus Blue Jackets. They then survived double overtime in game three as they would go on to win four-in-a-row. Washington then defeated the two-time defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins in six. After losing seven consecutive playoff series to them the Capitals finally defeated their rivals.

Then they got in a 3-2 hole against the Tampa Bay Lightning. However, the Capitals won game six and then overcame their awful game seven history to take the series. After dropping game one to Vegas, Washington then won the next four games to take the series. They also managed to avoid setting up speculation that this could be there biggest blown 3-1 lead of them all by clinching last night.

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The Capitals, Ovechkin and more

With their win in their Stanley Cup Finals, the Capitals are no longer on the list of expansion teams in the four major sports (MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL) to have been playing over 40 seasons without a championship.

*Span as of before last night’s game for all teams. Capitals would have been at 43 seasons if they would have lost the Stanley Cup Finals.

Sport Team Span
MLB Texas Rangers 57 seasons
NFL Atlanta Falcons 52 seasons
NFL Cincinnati Bengals 50 seasons
NHL St. Louis Blues 50 seasons
NBA Phoenix Suns 50 seasons
MLB Milwaukee Brewers 49 seasons
MLB San Deigo Padres 49 seasons
MLB Washington Nationals 49 seasons
NBA Los Angeles Clippers 48 seasons
NHL Buffalo Sabres 47 seasons
NHL Vancouver Canucks 47 seasons
NBA Utah Jazz 44 seasons
NHL Washington Capitals 42 seasons
NBA Denver Nuggets 42 seasons
NBA Indiana Pacers 42 seasons
NBA Brooklyn Nets 42 seasons
MLB Seattle Mariners 41 seasons

Alexander Ovechkin became only the second player (Sidney Crosby) in the last 20 seasons to score at least 15 goals in the playoffs. He also joined Wayne Gretzky as the oldest player to accomplish this. Overall, he is only the 16th player (21st occurrence) in NHL history to score at least 15 goals in the playoffs.

Player (Age) Team Year Games Played Goals Goals per game
Sidney Crosby (21) Penguins 2008-09 24 15 0.63
Alex Ovechkin (32) Capitals 2017-18 24 15 0.63
Wayne Gretzky (32) Kings 1992-92 24 15 0.63

Ovechkin also passed John Druce for the most goals scored by a Capitals player in a single playoff run. He is also only the second Russian to ever win the Conn Smythe Trophy, joining Evgeni Malkin. Also, he is the first Russian Captain and only the fifth non-Canadian Captain to lead his team to win the Stanley Cup.

Of course, Ovechkin got plenty of help from his teammates, most notably from Evgeny Kuznetsov and Braden Holtby. With his 20 assists in these playoffs, Kuznetsov became only the 19th player (26th occurrence) to have at least that many in NHL history.

After not starting in the Capitals first two playoff games Holtby came in righted the ship. His biggest moment was when Washington faced elimination in games six and seven of the Lightning series. Holtby recorded shutouts in both games, his only shutouts of the season.

Other Capitals notes

Devante Smith-Pelly scored as many goals in the playoffs (7) as he did in the entire regular season.

Barry Trotz won his first Stanley Cup in his 19th season, the longest any NHL head coach has coached before winning it for the first time.

Jay Beagle became the first NHL player to win an ECHL, AHL and NHL Championship.

Lars Eller became the first player from Denmark to win the Stanley Cup.

Nathan Walker became the first Australian to win the Stanley Cup.
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The Golden Knights historic run ends

The Vegas Golden Knights when into their inaugural season projected to be one of the worst teams in the NHL by many pundits. Instead, they put together the best season ever by an expansion team in any of the four major sports (MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL).

This continued in the playoffs, where they went 12-3 in route to winning the Western Conference. After winning game one of the Finals, Vegas lost the next four games. It was the only time this season that they had lost four in a row.

Record Goals Scored (per game) Shots on goal per game Goals allowed (per game) Opponent shots against per game
Vegas first three rounds 12-3 43 (2.86) 31.53 27 (1.8) 33.66
Vegas in Cup Finals 1-4 14 (2.8) 31.2 20 (4) 27.2

What ultimately made the difference for the Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Finals is that Marc-Andre Fleury’s performance nosedived. Add on to that some bad luck and they managed to have to lose four games in a row.

Record GAA Shots Against Saves Save % Shutouts
Fleury in first three rounds 12-3 1.68 33.66 31.86 0.947 4
Fleury in Cup Finals 1-4 4.09 27.2 23.2 0.853 0

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Sources and Info: (All sources not listed here linked/mentioned in the article)

Featured Image: “Alex Ovechkin 2018-05-21” by Michael Miller is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_NHL_franchise_post-season_droughts

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Major_League_Baseball_franchise_postseason_droughts

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_NBA_franchise_post-season_droughts

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_NFL_franchise_post-season_droughts

https://www.hockey-reference.com/teams/VEG/2018_games.html

Fleury’s pre-Finals performance 

https://www.hockey-reference.com/players/f/fleurma01/gamelog/2018

https://www.nhl.com/player/marc-andre-fleury-8470594?stats=splits-p-nhl&season=20172018

Tables made using Google Spreadsheet

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Where preseason power rankings had the Stanley Cup Finalists

Last night, the Washington Capitals defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-0 to advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals for only the second time in franchise history. They came back from a 3-2 series deficit in large part due to goalie Braden Holtby, who recorded back-to-back shutouts after having not had one all season.

Now, the Capitals will face the first-year Las Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Finals. Ironically, the best expansion franchise in the history of the NHL will be facing off against the franchise that was the worst expansion team in hockey history.

Another interesting note to this historical final is that it will be the first time in over a decade that one of the championship series for the four major sports (MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL) will be contested between two teams that have never won before.

Sport Teams Season Result
NHL Senators v. Ducks 2006-07 Ducks in 5
NBA Mavericks v. Heat 2005-06 Heat in 6
NFL* Titans v. Rams 1999-00 Rams 23-16
NFL Bengals v. 49ers 1981-82 49ers 26-21
MLB Royals v. Phillies 1980 Phillies in 6

*If only counting teams with no Super Bowls (not counting NFL Championships won)

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Preseason power rankings for Cup Finals from various sports sites

Now that the Stanley Cup Finals are set, let’s take a look at where the Capitals and Golden Knights were in the preseason power rankings of various sports sites compared to the other 29 NHL teams.

Site Prediction (Caps) Prediction (Golden Knights)
BuffaloNews.com 5 31
CBS Sports 12 30
ESPN 3 31
iSportsweb.com 3 31
NBC Sports 3 29
NHL.com 4 31
Puckprose.com 7 30
Sporting News 9 31
SportsNet 11 29
The Hockey Writers 5 31
The Globe and Mail 4 16
The Grueling Truth 8 28
TSN 5 31
USA Today 17 25
ZSN 6 22
 Average rank:  6.8 28.4

Out of the 15 sites, eight (53.33%) of them had the Capitals being a top five team at the start of the 2017-18 NHL season. In contrast, seven (46.66%) had the Golden Knights being the worst team in the league. Only three of them had Vegas not finishing as one of the four worst teams in the NHL (28th or worse).

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Sources and Info:

Featured Image: “Lord Stanley” by Dave O is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

All sources for site predictions link in the table above.

Tables made using Google Spreadsheet.