The 2018 Stanley Cup Finals are set to feature the Washington Capitals of the Eastern Conference and the Western Conference’s Vegas Golden Knights, two teams that have a combined zero championships between them. The Caps have only reached this stage once before in their 43-year history, getting swept by the Detroit Red Wings back in 1998. Vegas has had the fortune and skill to make a run in their very first year of existence, becoming the only expansion team in NHL history to not only have a winning record, but also to make the playoffs and now be favored to win it all.
Oddsmakers opened the Golden Knights as a slight, -150 favorite for the Stanley Cup Finals. That means backers would have to risk $1.50 to win $1 on them completing their improbable campaign with the raising of Lord Stanley’s Cup. Washington is a narrow, +130 underdog that would return $1.30 for every $1 wagered on the club to emerge as champions after this best-of-seven series. To put it in percentages, the linesmakers believe that Vegas has a 58% chance to claim a title and Washington a 42% chance. The Golden Knights have the advantage of having a bit more rest, having locked up the Campbell Bowl for winning the West, four games to one, over the Winnipeg Jets on May 20, while the Capitals needed to battle through seven hard-fought contests—ending on May 23—to edge out the Tampa Bay Lightning for the Prince of Wales Trophy.
When is the 2018 Stanley Cup Final?
Full Stanley Cup Final schedule
Game 1: May 28 at Vegas, 8 p.m. (NBC, CBC, Sportsnet, fuboTV)
Game 2: May 30 at Vegas, 8 p.m. (NBC, CBC, Sportsnet, fuboTV)
Game 3: June 2 at Washington, 8 p.m. (NBC, CBC, Sportsnet, fuboTV)
Game 4: June 4 at Washington, 8 p.m. (NBC, CBC, Sportsnet, fuboTV)
*Game 5: June 7 at Vegas, 8 p.m. (NBC, CBC, Sportsnet, fuboTV)
*Game 6: June 10 at Washington, 8 p.m. (NBC, CBC, Sportsnet, fuboTV)
*Game 7: June 13 at Vegas, 8 p.m. (NBC, CBC, Sportsner, fuboTV)
Offense: The Capitals are second in goals per game (3.47) these playoffs. It’s carried them this far, with postseason scoring leader Evgeny Kuznetsov (11 goals, 24 points) providing Ovechkin (12 goals, 22 points) with a kind of offensive support he never received in past runs. Nicklas Backstrom, who’s missed four games to injury, is also contributing at a point-per-game pace (1.07) and is beginning to look more like himself. That said, the Golden Knights counter with what’s been the best line in the playoffs with Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith and William Karlsson. Vegas’ top six forwards have accounted for 29 of 41 playoff goals.
Defense: Vegas and Washington rank second and third in goals against during the playoffs. A lot of that has had to do with stellar goaltending (more on that below), but the Capitals have been better at suppressing shot attempts (28.2 on goal per game). Michal Kempny, acquired from the Blackhawks at the trade deadline, as been an underrated addition on the top pairing with John Carlson. Vegas staggers its top three of Nate Schmidt, Shea Theodore and Collin Miller across its top three pairs, all of whom excel at moving the puck up the ice.
Special teams: At 28.2 percent, the Capitals own the second-best power play of the playoffs and lead all teams with 17 goals on the man advantage. That may not matter against the Golden Knights, who have killed 82.5 percent of opposing power plays. The Caps lag far behind on the kill (75.4) and got into a ton of penalty trouble against the Lightning, but we’ll allow a benefit of the doubt since they just overcame Tampa and Pittsburgh, the NHL’s two most potent units. Vegas, meanwhile, has struggled to generate much offense on power plays of their own (17.6 percent). That’s going to have to change.
Coaching: Not to discredit what Barry Trotz has accomplished, keeping the Capitals focused and loose despite tense outside pressure to avoid yet another choke job. Trotz was coaching for his job this postseason, and his move to Braden Holtby in the first round probably saved it. But Gerard Gallant continues to amaze with one of the most masterful coaching jobs in the history of the NHL. Teams have yet to solve the enigma he’s created in the Golden Knights.
Advantage: Golden Knights