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ELY… Just about 30 minutes ago the Washington Capitals defeated the Tampa Lightning 3-0 in a Game 6 showdown to tie the series at 3 apiece thus setting up what will be the 3rd Game 7 of a series in the 2018 Stanley Cup tournament. This matches the total number of G7’s of the 2017 tourney, but still represents the lowest number of them going back as far as 2010. That year there were 4, followed by 7 in 2011, then 4 in 2012, 5 in 2013, 7 in 2014, and 5 each in 2015 and 2016. Of the 3 in last seasons playoff, the Pittsburgh Penguins appeared in 2 of them, winning each time. (d. WASH & OTT) After the Caps beat Tampa on the road in G1 and G2 I just didn’t see a lot of reason to think Tampa was going to prevail. I stated that if they went to DC and won G3 and G4 that I would be “substantially impressed”. They did, and I was. They won these games by playing their skating game, which on most days the Caps cannot match. The Bolts went back home and took G5, setting up an elimination game in DC this eve.
The pre-game Bolts mantra was play like it’s G7, so they wouldn’t have to actually play one. The 1st period had some back and forth pace to it, but as it wore on the physicality picked up and it was the Caps pushing that. At one point my thought about the Caps was are you trying to beat them or beat them up? It turns out that they were trying to do both and succeeding. In most of the contact battles the Caps were ahead and outhit the Bolts 39-19 officially. And dare I say that most of their hits were of the “heavy” variety. Can that win you a game in today’s NHL? It did on this night in my opinion. Penalty calls and thus power plays were at a minimum, 0 for 2 for Tampa, and 1 for 1 for the Caps. There were two fighting majors late in the 1st for a mostly non-descript dustup. I mean, I wasn’t running a punch count or anything but if I was it would have been in the low single digits. You really don’t see anymore spirited bouts this deep into the tourney anymore, and I’m not complaining, just pointing that out.
TJ Oshie got the GWG at 15:12 of the 2nd period on a PP goal. Devante Smith-Pelley got an insurance goal at 10:02 of the 3rd, and finally Oshie got a late ENG to complete the scoring. The Bolts tried but didn’t really have an answer once the Caps began to force their heavy hitting game on them and neither did they seem to have their usual skating game at it’s peak level. So, what could occur in a G7? In G5 back in Tampa, despite hot and humid weather outside, the ice conditions were favorable inside. The reported ice temp was at 23f for game time. Oddly, I didn’t hear the broadcast crew mention it tonight. I may have missed it if they did, but I was smiling when I thought to ponder if the Caps allowed it to rise a few degrees in an attempt to slow down the Bolts. But honestly, that can’t happen as the league takes over that function in the playoffs to insure game condition integrity for the tourney. So, who might prevail?
I think the Bolts are going to have to elevate their skating game back to the level it was at in G3-G5 in an attempt to negate the Caps hitting aspect of their game. Bolt netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy had a strong performance stopping 31 of 33 shots for a .939 save percentage. On most nights that will earn you a win. On the other end Caps goalie Braden Holtby stopped all 24 shots launched his way. That’s a cool 1.000 SV%. You can’t go any higher then that. Special teams are a basic wash, both PP and PK percentages are too close to hand out a superiority rank. If the Bolts grab their skating game back and play their game they will win at home. If the Caps Alex Ovechkin comes into this tilt with the determination he had in the Penguin series, and puts the Caps on his back, I’m not sure the Bolts can stop them. Wednesday eve, 7PM, let’s GO!
THE VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS have defied all pro sports logic and are going to the Stanley Cup Final after downing the Winnipeg Jets 4 games to 1 in a very competitive series, don’t let the final tally sway you, this series was close all the way through. After the Jets won G1 at The Peg, the Knights rattled off 4 straight wins to grab a trip to the Cup Final in their inaugural season. Knowing how hard of a tournament this is, it’s an accomplishment of epic standing. This has turned out to be a very good, highly unique team and organization. They do everything first class from top to bottom. I have heard their detractors state though that the expansion draft rules were heavily tilted in their favor. Sure, never before have we seen this generous of an expansion draft process. On the other hand, 30 teams and their GM’s had to vote for the rules of this draft to be held in such a manner, and every one of their owners were more then happy to pocket their share of the $500mil that Vegas owner Bill Foley had to pony up to get into this frozen elitist good old boys’ club.
Then the team, through its ownership and officers had to build a hockey ops department, guided by the GM that they thought could build an excellent scouting and coaching staff, create a solid and positive culture and playing philosophy, and then filter through the hundreds of players that they thought could bring their vision to fruition and go about obtaining them through a series of efforts and deals. No one saw this coming. Not a Division Title and 3 playoff series wins. So, I say congrats! There will be no whining coming from me. Yes, you could say that they were the recipients of a perfect storm of events and happenings and I wouldn’t argue with you. But these folks had a vision and a plan, stuck with it and the results have been exhilarating for all involved. I watched most of their season and you can count me in as a fan. From Goalie extraordinaire Marc-Andre Fleury to the supporting roster, to their fan favorite canine mascot Bark-Andre Furry, they have got it going! This has been fun! The Cup Final will commence Monday eve, May 28th featuring the Knights versus Bolts or Caps. Stay tuned and PEACE!