There is going to be a first in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.
The Vegas Golden Knights stunned the sports world by making the championship round in their first year of existence. It wasn't supposed to be this way for the expansion team that figured to need a number of years to cultivate draft picks, but Vegas caught fire from the start of the season and carried the momentum all the way to the Final.
As for the Washington Capitals, they have never lifted a Stanley Cup in their history that is largely defined by postseason failures. This year is the first time they advanced past the second round since 1998, when they lost in the Stanley Cup Final.
They vanquished their second-round demons with a victory over the archrival Pittsburgh Penguins and then battled back from a 3-2 deficit against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final with two straight wins.
Game 1: Washington Capitals at Vegas Golden Knights on Monday, May 28, at 8 p.m. ET on NBC
Game 2: Washington Capitals at Vegas Golden Knights on Wednesday, May 30, at 8 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network
Game 3: Vegas Golden Knights at Washington Capitals on Saturday, June 2, at 8 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network
Game 4: Vegas Golden Knights at Washington Capitals on Monday, June 4, at 8 p.m. ET on NBC
*Game 5: Washington Capitals at Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday, June 7, at 8 p.m. ET on NBC
*Game 6: Vegas Golden Knights at Washington Capitals on Sunday, June 10, at 8 p.m. ET on NBC
*Game 7: Washington Capitals at Vegas Golden Knights on Wednesday, June 13, at 8 p.m. ET on NBC
The easy thing to do in this series is assume this is the year Alex Ovechkin finally breaks through and adds the only thing missing from his otherwise illustrious resume—a championship. After all, Vegas is theoretically playing far above its head and was not supposed to be at this stage so quickly anyway.
Ovechkin has been excellent in these playoffs with eight points in the first-round win over the Columbus Blue Jackets, seven points in the win over the Penguins and seven points in the series against the Lightning, one of which was a goal in Game 7.
With the offensive leader playing at such a high level and Braden Holtby entering the Stanley Cup Final with plenty of confidence after tallying a shutout on the biggest stage the Eastern Conference has to offer Wednesday in Tampa Bay.
However, the Golden Knights are going to shock the world yet again and lift the Stanley Cup in their first year of existence.
A major reason the pick here is Vegas is the fact it will enjoy home-ice advantage, where it has been downright dominant. It was a sparkling 29-10-2 at home during the regular season and is 6-1 in the playoffs behind a raucous crowd that overwhelms the opponents as soon as the Golden Knights seize a lead.
Vegas may be the new kid on the block, but goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury is anything but as a three-time Stanley Cup winner from his days in Pittsburgh. He just beat the Capitals in the second round last year and posted a shutout in the do-or-die Game 7, ending their season early yet again.
Washington didn't have to worry about facing Fleury this year when it played the Penguins, but he is waiting for it once again on the postseason stage.
Fleury has a 94.7 save percentage and a goals-against average of just 1.68 in these playoffs and will be the difference against the Capitals.
Prediction: Vegas in six