Capitals on cusp of first Stanley Cup

Marc Elliott

Caps Braden Holtby stops Knights  Jonathan Marchessault in Stanley Cup Game 4
Caps Braden Holtby stops Knights Jonathan Marchessault in Stanley Cup Game 4

PALMERS… I saw an article yesterday online and the headline was wondering if the Vegas Golden Knights magic had run out. All I could do at that moment was shake my head. No, I didn’t think their “magic” had run out, but there had been a few occasions where I had been wondering where their puck luck went. Whatever had been going the Knights way in their first three series and perhaps in G1 of this one has disappeared now. Pipes, passes missing by inches, open nets being missed, you name it and it has been happening to the Knights. In addition, the Capitals have just won G4 by a 6-2 final score to take a smothering three games to one lead in this series and it is now the Caps series to lose. After G1 not much has went the Knights way and just about everything is going for the Caps. I am also left to ponder if this is just one of those years, or one of those windows where it’s simply the East’s turn on the throne. It just might be. This would be the third year in a row for an Eastern Cup Champ if the Caps prevail.    

Since 2000 when the NJ Devils won the Cup there have been 8 Eastern Conference Champions and 9 Western Champs. (there was no tourney in 2005 due to a lockout and Detroit has been moved to the EC) Within that timeframe there have been 2 distinct stretches of conference dominance with the East winning 3 in a row, 2003-06, and the West winning 4 consecutive, 2012-15 and with the West winning 5 of 8, 2010-2017. Of course, Conferences didn’t mean anything until the 1967 league expansion which led to the Original Six becoming the “East” and the 6 new expansion clubs becoming the “West”, geographic locales be damned. After this eve’s tilt it would seem hard to believe that the Conference tally won’t be going to 9-9. You will be reading this before then though as G5 will take place in Vegas on Thursday night at 7PM CT. The Stanley Cup will be at T-Mobile Arena and both the fans and the team will be aiming to keep Lord Stanley in his case for at least one more game, if not two.    

Can the VGK pull that off? I think that might be a tall order. Not only has the Knights magic or puck luck, whatever you wish to call it, appear to be gone, the Caps physically dominating style of play has pretty much taken over the series. In addition, no team has blown a 3-1 lead in the SC Final since the Detroit Red Wings did going back to 1942, 76 years ago. But then, the G1 winner has won 61 of the last 78 Cups and the last six consecutively. So, who will do what with which to whom? Last week I mentioned that I would be interested to see how the Caps looked once they crept into that 22-23 GP territory which tends to be the point of the tourney where I have seen some past teams begin to “wear down”. The thing is that it is the Knights that are the team that appear to be wearing down a bit. That just might be due to the Caps grinding physical style coming into play for them. Thus far into the series the Knights skating game hasn’t done a lot for them.    

The Caps netminder Braden Holtby appears to be solidly outplaying the Knights Marc Andre Fleury. I have never forgot what a youth hockey coach told me years back in that it takes all 6 players on the ice to prevent a goal against. And he was pretty much correct on that point. The Caps are simply outplaying Vegas in this regard and have made the Vegas team defense look mostly out of sync. A few of the Cap tallies have come on blown coverages or Caps players working into open ice for easy layup type goals. The most glaring example of that was Lars Eller scoring into a wide-open net off a cross-slot pass late in the 1st period in G2 after the Knights had scored first for a 1-0 lead. Eller was so wide open that all he had to do was tuck in the baby for the night and raise his stick. The Caps got the next two goals en route to a 3-2 victory and they haven’t looked back since. This game was not unlike games 3 or 4 either in that the Knights came out with plenty of pop but as the game went on and the Caps imposed their physical presence, they simply took over and the Knights couldn’t answer.    

I will never say never for Vegas, but it appears that the Caps are about to get their first Cup. I can’t see Vegas winning three straight to come back at this point in the tourney, but they have had a magnificent run to say the least. What they have accomplished for a first-year club is remarkable. There is an extra day between G4 an G5 and that may benefit the Knights. They could possibly win G5 and take the series back to DC for a G6 but that’s a tall order. Imagine the Amtrak Capital Limited (which goes from CHI to DC) coming down the tracks at 80 mph and someone has placed a plaster of Paris full size figurine of a hockey player on the tracks. Yup. You know the outcome. Poof, and a cloud of plaster dust! So, what is my prediction for G5 tonight? I predict that I am going to have a big bowl of popcorn, an ice-cold soda and enjoy what might be the last game of the season…    

THE MINNESOTA WILD have hired Nashville Predators Assistant GM Paul Fenton to replace their former GM Chuck Fletcher. This is old news of course and I haven’t written about it because it was just about a foregone conclusion at the start of the hiring process. It would be hard to say that team owner Craig Leipold wasn’t locked in on Fenton from the start. By all accounts Fenton is a well-respected Exec all around the league. He is inheriting from Fletcher a top 10-12 NHL club. He is also taking over a team that the owner believes is only a few “tweaks” away from a Cup Championship. That is where the Wild go off the rails from my perspective. While I believe the Wild are a pretty good team, they are still missing a few components to elevate them to that Cup Champion status. I mean, that’s rarified air and the Wild are not at that altitude as of right now. How do you think a Caps-Wild Final would go right now? That’s right, not well for the Wild. More on that post-Cup… PEACE