For seemingly the first time in the Las Vegas Golden Knights’ inaugural season, the team is facing adversity as it trails the Washington Capitals 2-1 heading into Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals tonight.
While one franchise has been around since 1974, and the other is in its first year, the two teams share one thing in common: they’re both looking to win the first Stanley Cup in franchise history.
Vegas has had a relatively easy path to this point. They haven’t lost consecutive games until dropping the second and third games of this series, and they’ve only played three more games than the minimum 12 to get to the finals.
They’ve certainly benefitted from an easier expansion draft in today’s age as they were able to take three-time Stanley Cup champion Marc-Andre Fleury to defend the team’s net in year one.
Fleury, looking to etch his name on the Cup for the fourth time, currently holds career highs this postseason in shutouts (4) save percentage (93.7%) and goals allowed average (1.95) in his first spring away from Pittsburgh.
Another future Hall of Famer on the ice this series, Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin, is no stranger to Fleury. Fleury’s Penguins had eliminated Ovechkin and the Capitals in each of the last two seasons en route to consecutive Stanley Cup titles.
A three-time Hart Trophy winner, Ovechkin has notched 25 points in 22 games thus far and is just a finals win away from obtaining every milestone throughout his illustrious 13-year career.
As storied as the careers of Fleury and Ovechkin have been, the outcome of this series will surely come down to more than just the play of those two.
The Golden Knights’ defense, which was the eighth best in the NHL this season, needs to step up. The Capitals have scored at least three goals every game this series and have averaged 3.5 per game this postseason.
To play better defense, Vegas needs to improve their physicality. The Capitals currently have four of the five leading hitters this postseason, including their leading goal scorer, Ovechkin, who has laid out 77 opponents in addition to scoring a postseason-high 14 goals.
If the defense does its job, and the Golden Knights’ hard hitters of Brayden McNabb and Deryk Engelland can somewhat slow down Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov for the Caps, then expect the offensive production of Jonathon Marchessault and William Karlsson, coupled with Fleury’s goaltending, to be enough for the Golden Knights to take this series in seven games.