“Nobody believed in us and nobody believed in Vegas, and we’re right now in the Stanley Cup Final, and we fight for the Cup,” Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin said Sunday at Media Day. “I think everybody enjoys [this moment]. You guys (media) enjoy it. Fans enjoy it.”
We are indeed at the foot of Mount Improbable, with Game One set for Monday in Las Vegas of all places.
For a refresher, Vegas finished first in the Pacific Division this season and posted 51 wins. They’re 12-3 in the playoffs.
The Capitals have amassed 1,113 points since 2007-2008 and are second only to the Penguins in wins during the same period. They made the post-season in 10 of the last 11 seasons, but they haven’t bolted the second round since the late 1990s when Titanic won a boatload of Oscars. Washington is 12-7 in these playoffs.
If the series comes down to scoring, the first name at the top of the list will be Alex Ovechkin. Obviously.
The Great Eight has 22 points in 19 games, including a dozen goals. He cut down on his shift time a little bit over Game Five and Six against Tampa, but there’s every reason to believe he’ll be hammering Lebron-esque digits when the puck drops in Vegas.
The 32-year-old Mamma Lucia aficionado is easily having the best playoff performance of his career. He hit 21 points in 2008-2009, but saw action in just 14 games before the Capitals were eliminated. That time around, he had a whopping 90 shots on goal.
And that’s where the beauty lies.
Ovechkin’s cracked off 80 shots on goal already and will work to increase that volume against Marc-Andre Fleury. Making sure the opposition sees cold rubber is as critical an element to Washington’s success as Braden Holtby’s play. We’ve already reviewed how Washington can zero in on cross-seam plays and expose Fleury.
But so far, Vegas has been game to assuage rush chances. In fact, the Golden Knights have permitted just 4.11 chances per 60 minutes off the rush.
Vegas will look primarily to Jonathan Marchessault to score. He has 18 points in 15 games, with eight goals and 10 assists. He had 64 shots on goal. The 27-year-old previously saw playoff action with Tampa, but he was held to just an assist in seven games. Things didn’t come to fruition until he was given the keys to the Golden Knights’ Aventador.
Marchessault was undrafted and stamped out a place for himself in the AHL before landing in the bigs. And now he’s doing Jude Drouin numbers in the post-season, with advances in his two-way game flagging the way for his offensive dexterity. Because of a few alterations, the Golden Knights have a more complete player and Marchessault will have his Conn Smythe chance.
As improbable as the Vegas/Washington matchup seems on paper, the Marchessault/Ovechkin matchup may be even stranger. But hockey can fortunately still surprise us, and this year’s Stanley Cup Final will, by many accounts, be one for the books. And the bookmakers.