And then there were three. Against all the Stanley Cup odds, the Vegas Golden Knights, the newest members of the NHL fraternity, have made it all the way to the final, making themselves the instant favorites to win it all in their inaugural season. They now get the satisfaction of a few days off while they sit and watch to see who they will be playing in the 7-game series in the final.
As it stands at the moment, the smart money would be on the Tampa Bay Lightning, as they have a 3-2 lead over the Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference Final. That one is far from done, though, so we are just going to need to wait and see how it all plays out. For now, let’s look at how the final three got to this point, and what their chances are of being crowned kings of the NHL.
It is fair to say that it has been a complete team effort that has allowed the Vegas Golden Knights to achieve the impossible by making it to the Stanley Cup Final. Yes, they had a fantastic regular season, but there were a lot of people, myself included, who thought that it would all come crashing down once the postseason began. That has not been the case, though, and as so often happens in the NHL playoffs, it is the team with the hot goalie that moves on.
Marc Andre Fleury has the benefit of having a ton of playoff experience from his years with the Pittsburgh Penguins, and he has used that to post a glittering 1.68 GAA and .947 save percentage. If the playoffs were to end today, he would almost certainly be a shoe-in for the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP. That they were able to hold the high-powered Jets to just 10 goals in 5 games tells you all you need to know about the defensive abilities of this group.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Stanley Cup Odds: +100
The Tampa Bay Lightning are just one win away from another Stanley Cup Final appearance, and they will head to Washington on Monday night with a shot to close things out. The Lightning made their opening two rounds look rather easy, disposing of the New Jersey Devils and Boston Bruins in 5 games in both those series. They looked to have run into a wall in the Eastern Conference Final, though, losing both home games to the Capitals to start the series 0-2.
They have now reeled off 3-straight, including back to back wins on the road in Washington, and now have the Caps on the brink of elimination. The Lightning is an impressive 5-1 on the road in the playoffs, and it would be tough to bet against them on Monday night.
Stanley Cup Odds: +700
After years of playoff failures, the Washington Capitals finally go over the hump by knocking off the 2-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins to make it to the Eastern Conference Final. When they won the opening two games of that series, you got the feeling that this was a team on a real mission.
Alexander Ovechkin has been playing out of his skin this postseason, scoring 11 goals and amassing 21 points. His quest for a ring is still alive, but he and his teammates are going to need to come up with something special to dig themselves out of their current 2-3 series hole.