ESNY 2018 Stanley Cup preview
Spencer Hazen, ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

The Stanley Cup Final teams are set as the Washington Capitals will take on the Vegas Golden Knights beginning Monday night in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The National Hockey League has the Stanley Cup Final of their dreams: Alex Ovechkin and his Washington Capitals taking on Marc-Andre Fleury and the Vegas Golden Knights.

There will be a first-time Stanley Cup winner this year as the Capitals are making their second appearance in the Final. The other was in 1998 losing to the Detroit Red Wings and, obviously, this is one of many firsts for the Knights.

The road to the Stanley Cup Final

The Washington Capitals, 12-7 in the playoffs, reached the finals the long way. In the first round, they defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-2. In the second round, they took on the Pittsburgh Penguins for the third consecutive year, defeating them 4-2. The Caps then knocked off the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-3 after trailing 3-2, to capture the Eastern Conference Championship.

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The Vegas Golden Knights, 12-3 in the playoffs, took a different, more direct route to the Stanley Cup Final.

In the opening round, they swept the Los Angeles Kings 4-0, then had a tough encounter with the San Jose Sharks which lasted six games, taking the series 4-2. The Western Conference Final saw the Knights battle the Winnipeg Jets. After losing Game 1 of the series, the Knights rang off four straight wins to take the series 4-1.

The Vegas Golden Knights finished 2-0-0 against the Washington Capitals this season.

Big names creating top plays

Washington’s captain Alex Ovechkin has been on a mission this postseason.

With 12 goals and 22 points in 19 games, he has to lead the way for Capitals. He scored the game-winning goal in Game 7 against the Tampa Bay Lightning with a blast just 1:02 into the contest. Evgeny Kuznetsov is right behind Ovechkin with 11 goals and 13 assists. 30- year-old Nicklas Backstrom has 12 assists in this postseason.

The Vegas Golden Knights are young in age, but that hasn’t stopped them all year. They’ve been led by Jonathan Marchessault, who has had a great playoff run after a slow start in the first round. The 27-year-old has recorded eight goals along with 18 points in 15 games and has a 10-game point streak. William Karlsson, with six goals and seven assists, has been around the net often as his explosive speed gets him some excellent scoring opportunities.

The battle between the pipes

The goaltending is going to be the talk of the playoffs. Washington’s Braden Holtby has played very well after not starting in the first round of the playoffs. He is coming off a dominating performance against the Tampa Bay Lightning where he had shutouts in Game 6 and Game 7 when the Capitals closed out the series on the road in Tampa Bay.

Marc-Andre Fleury of the Vegas Golden Knights has been the goalie the franchise expected when he came on board this season. Four shutouts in the playoffs with a .947 save percentage along with 1.68 goals against average has the Knights thinking Stanley Cup. Fleury is looking for his fourth Stanley Cup Championship and will be making his third straight Stanley Cup Final appearance (the previous two while a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins).

George McPhee

McPhee has his hands all over this final. While he was the general manager of the Washington Capitals from 1987-2014 he drafted several Capitals that his Knights will be battling come Monday. Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, Backstrom, defenseman John Carlson, and Holtby were all drafted by McPhee.

Nate Schmidt, Knights defenseman, was selected from the Capitals at the expansion draft last year and current Knight forward Cody Eakin was originally drafted by Washington.

The Capitals are a hard-hitting team led by feisty forward Tom Wilson. He can score goals, lay out some hard hits and will get in every Knights face when he needs to. His teammates feed off of his energy and the Knights need to be aware of this throughout their games.

The Knights have not played a team like the Capitals this postseason. A team that can skate, score, hit hard and play defense on all four lines. The Knights are going to have to adjust their game in order to keep up with the constant changes coach Barry Trotz and the Caps make throughout the series.

Projected starting lineups for Game 1

Washington Capitals

Alex Ovechkin – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana – Nicklas Backstrom – T.J. Oshie
Andre Burakovsky – Lars Eller – Brett Connolly
Chandler Stephenson – Jay Beagle – Devante Smith-Pelly

Dmitry Orlov – Matt Niskanen
Michal Kempny – John Carlson
Brooks Orpik – Christian Djoos

Braden Holtby
Philipp Grubauer

Vegas Golden Knights

Jonathan Marchessault – William Karlsson – Reilly Smith
James Neal – Erik Haula – David Perron
Ryan Carpenter – Cody Eakin – Alex Tuch
Tomas Nosek – Pierre-Edouard Bellemare – Ryan Reaves

Brayden McNabb – Nate Schmidt
Shea Theodore – Deryk Engelland
Luca Sbisa – Colin Miller

Marc-Andre Fleury
Malcolm Subban

ESNY Stanley Cup Final Predictions

Elite Sports New York employs great hockey writers. I asked them how they thought the series would go and who would win the Conn Smythe Trophy. The Washington Capitals seem to have an edge, but that’s why the game is played on the ice.

Frank CurtoStaff Writer/Team Boss New York Rangers
Winner: Vegas Golden Knights, 7 games
Conn Smythe: Marc-Andre Fleury
Explanation: Both teams are unfamiliar with the Stanley Cup Final, the Capitals have played a lot of hockey. I believe the pressure of being the favorite and the way the Knights have performed all year will be overwhelming for Washington. Marc-Andre Fleury has had great success against Ovechkin and the Capitals in past years and I expect that to continue now.

Kyle McKenna –  Contributing Writer
Winner: Washington Capitals, 7 games
Conn Smythe: Marc-Andre Fleury
Explanation: NHL fans alike will get to witness Alex Ovechkin hoist Lord’s Stanley Cup and in a Washington Capitals sweater. Most analysts seem to be taking Vegas over Washington due to the Knights’ overall speed, aggressive forecheck and ability to execute after forcing the opposition to make costly turnovers in the defensive zone. The Conn Smythe Trophy will be awarded to a player from the losing team in the Stanley Cup Final. While Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury’s historic 2018 playoff run won’t result in the franchise’s first ever Stanley Cup, the 33-year-old will still take home some hardware as the playoff MVP.

William McInerneyTrending Writer
Winner: Vegas Golden Knights, 7 games
Conn Smythe: Marc-Andre Fleury
Explanation:  This comes down to the goalies. Marc-Andre Fleury has been unbeatable during this run in the playoffs, and Braden Holtby has been almost as good. This is going to be a close series, but Fleury playing some great hockey and timely goals from the upstart Golden Knights will lead to the team winning it all in their inaugural season.

Dominick RennaStaff Editor
Winner: Washington Capitals, 6 Games
Conn Smythe: Alex Ovechkin

Explanation: Despite the magical run of Marc-Andre Fleury and the Vegas Golden Knights, the Caps just have too much star power on their side. Powered by Alex Ovechkin and Braden Holtby the Caps will finally cross the finish line. It will be a fun series that might even go seven, but the magic for Vegas will run out.

Spencer HazenContributor/Graphics
Winner: Washington Capitals, 6 Games
Conn Smythe:  Alex Ovechkin

Explanation: The Final will feature two great stories, and the best part is that one will get its happy ending. Everyone had a feeling that once Washington exorcised their demons (the Pittsburgh Penguins), they’d be unstoppable and here we are. Alex Ovechkin is a man on a mission and he’s only four wins away so don’t expect him to stop now. Fleury will be sharp in goal as he has been all playoffs, but the Caps will find a way to penetrate through the Vegas defense often enough that Fleury won’t be able to stop them all. Wouldn’t it be something to see the Capitals and Ovechkin finally win the Stanley Cup, in front of their fans?

Matt Di Giacomo Staff Writer/ Team Boss New York Islanders
Winner: Washington Capitals, 6 Games
Explanation: The improbable odds Vegas had to climb to get them here is nothing short of historic and a testament to Gerrard Gallant & company’s work. However, the newborn Capitals exorcised several demons after their Game 6 victory over Pittsburgh and have roared their way past the eastern favorite Tampa Bay Lightning to earn their first trip to the Stanley Cup Final since 1998. Ovechkin’s leadership, both on and off the ice, has risen to another level during the Caps’ run to the Final. With the Caps firing on all cylinders and after splitting the first four games of the series, a gutsy Game 5 OT win in Vegas sets them up to capture their first title on home ice after Game 6.

Follow Frank Curto on TWITTER

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