2018 Stanley Cup Finals Picks: Vegas Will Make History
Will The Golden Knights Capitalize?
The Stanley Cup final hasn't been this wide open in years. Not since the 1996 matchup between the Colorado Avalanche and Florida Panthers has there been two teams in the Stanley Cup final that are winless in Stanley Cup final play.
The Capitals were swept by the Red Wings in their only previous Cup final in the spring of 1998. The Vegas Golden Knights are seeking to become the only expansion team in any of the major North Amercian sports to win a championship in their first season of existence.
Bettors tend to like be able to access track records when assessing their wagering options, but there just aren't any here. Only the 1967-68 St. Louis Blues previously reached the final in their first season as an expansion franchise and they were swept aside by the Montreal Canadiens. But the Canadiens owned a legacy of Stanley Cup success - they'd won seven titles in 11 seasons prior to that 1968 Cup final series. The Capitals possess no such history.
The Blues and Golden Knights share another common trait - both were backstopped by veteran netminders with lengthy Stanley Cup final resumes. Golden Knights netminder Marc-Andre Fleury is playing in his fourth Stanley Cup final. Glenn Hall, goalie for the 1967-68 Blues, was appearing in his fourth Stanley Cup final. Down 3-2 in the East final, Caps goalie Braden Holtby posted back-to-back shutouts in Games 6 and 7, the first goalie to do that in a conference final since Detroit's Dominik Hasek in 2002.
Teams seeking to win their first Stanley Cup are 3-7 in the last 10 appearances. The last team to be a first-time Cup winner was the 2011-12 Los Angeles Kings. The last team to win the Cup in their first Cup final appearance was the 2003-04 Tampa Bay Lightning. While no NHL team has ever won the Cup in their first season, both the 1925-26 Montreal Maroons and 1927-28 New York Rangers were Stanley Cup champions in their second NHL seasons.
Vegas Golden Knights vs Washington Capitals Series Prices
Surprisingly, the oddsmakers are leaning toward history being made. Bovada has established the Golden Knights as the -135 favorites to set a precedent and win the Stanley Cup. The Capitals are given odds of +115 to win their first Stanley Cup title. The Eastern Conference champions have won the last two Stanley Cups, ending a four-year reign of dominance by Western Conference clubs. But Western Conference champs appearing in their first Stanley Cup final in franchise history have lost three straight.
The Capitals took out the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins, but just two of the last eight teams to eliminate the reigning champs have gone on to win it all. The Washington Capitals finally got over the hump by moving away from their reliance on captain and seven-time Rocket Richard Trophy winner Alexander Ovechkin to light up the scoreboard. Ovechkin still led the NHL with 49 goals this season, but it was a commitment to an overall team defensive scheme that enabled the Capitals to reach the final.
It's all about the collective for the Golden Knights. While their top forward line of William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith combined for 92 goals and 213 points, Vegas coach Gerard Gallant isn't afraid to put any of his players on the ice to defend a lead in the game's dying moments, and in fact it was fourth-line forward Ryan Reaves who tallied the goal that put them in the Cup final.
Overall, NHL teams making their first Stanley Cup final appearance like the Golden Knights are 10-17. Teams making their second Cup final appearance after losing their first like the Capitals are 8-4. But there's just something magical going on in Vegas. The Capitals have the best player in Ovechkin, but the Golden Knights look to be the deeper team.BABB Pick: Vegas Golden Knights (-135)
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