On Monday night, the puck will drop on one of the most anticipated Stanley Cup Finals in history. On one side of the ice is one of the greatest players to ever lace up a pair of skates in Alexander Ovechkin. The 32 year old star winger will finally have his opportunity to play for the cup after 13 seasons of domination for his Washington Capitals. Since “the great 8” made his debut back in 2005, his Capitals have won 3 presidents trophies and 8 division titles with each amounting to nothing more than a quick second round exit at best. At 32 years of age now, Ovechkin knows that it may be this season or bust for his Stanley Cup dream to be realized. Time slows down for no man, especially a hockey player with 13 seasons on his treads and a large number of hard hits, that would resemble a car wreck on the freeway leading into downtown Washington. The desperation for a cup is not only coming from the locker holding the number “8” inside of it, Nicklas Backstrom who has been a member of this Capitals roster since 2007 and is now 30 years old will also be playing for his first cup. The same can be said for 31 year old Olympics standout T.J. Oshie, Oshie has spent his career with the St. Louis Blues and came over to the Washington Capitals in 2015 via trade. In sports we occasionally see a young player come up and immediately get to experience the thrill and joy of a championship. It is always fascinating to see how that player responds the following season after reaching the pinnacle at an early age. You will be hard pressed to find that at Kettler iceplex in Arlington Virginia however, this core group of Capitals have waited a long time and suffered a good amount of postseason heartbreak awaiting this moment. Sure there are some good young talented players on this roster but for team leaders Ovechkin, Backstrom, Oshie and Holtby, a second trip to the Stanley Cup finals is not something that is written in stone by any means. The outcome of this finals could either be the missing piece in the career of Ovechkin, Oshie and Backstrom or it could be the series they remember forever as “the one that got away.” Players respond to desperation in different ways, some buckle under the pressure and others thrive in it. It is yet to be determined just how this group of Capitals will respond, so far throughout these playoffs they have shown an unrelenting toughness and an ability to win big games on the road, two things that are key in any quest to lifting Lord Stanley’s cup. Regardless of whether you love Ovechkin and the Caps or love to hate them, the finals of any sport are always a lot more fun when a star player is involved, especially when that player may be the biggest star in the sport without a championship. It is amazing how judgement on a legendary hall of fame career can come down to 7 games….*If necessary.
On the other side of the ice in these finals may just be the greatest sports story of all time. That’s right I said it! The Vegas Golden Knights are going to play for a Stanley Cup. Think about that. If you think for a week you still would not be able to comprehend the historic nature of this story. On June 22nd 2016 the NHL approved an expansion bid put forth to bring the first professional sports team to Vegas in sin city’s history. What has followed has been nothing short of spectacular. The story unfortunately began with tragedy. The Las Vegas shooting that took place on October 1st 2017 cast a dark cloud over not just Las Vegas but the country as a whole. The innocent lives that were lost sparked sadness and mourning over the bright lights of the strip. On October 10th, just 9 days after the tragic event, the Knights kicked off their inaugural season.However the night was dedicated not to hockey but to remembering the lives lost and honoring the heroes who put their lives on the line to save others. The atmosphere in the building that night gave everyone who was watching chills. Sports once again showed why it has the power to lift spirits and shine a light in the darkest of times. From that night forward there was a sense that we were going to witness something special with this group of cast-offs. What has followed has been history. A 51-24-7 record, a Pacific Division title and now the Western Conference crown that will send them to the Stanley Cup Finals. Just to give you some perspective on how amazing of a story this truly is, the last 2 expansion teams in the NHL were the Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild back in 2000. Both teams won a COMBINED 53 games in their inaugural seasons and didn’t see playoff action until years later. Knights GM George McPhee and head coach Gerard Gallant have done something that their hometown had at a 500-1 chance of happening. When a team has this many things go right for them there has to be a bit of luck involved….right? I am sure luck has been a factor in some of the games the Knights have won, but the bottom line is that this team is just that damn good. The net minding of goaltender Marc Andre Fleury has been nothing short of spectacular, the campaigns put together by Jonathan Marchessault, James Neal, David Perron and William Kaarlson have been off the charts considering they were given their walking papers by their prior employers. On every level it seems as though McPhee and Gallant have hit the jackpot. A year ago the names on the Golden Knights roster were informed that they would not be protected by their clubs in the expansion draft. Next week those names may be engraved on the Stanley Cup. The pregame intros have been legendary. The practices are sold out with fans. This team has helped Vegas recover in its darkest hour. If a movie were to be made about this the reviews might read that “It is not believable” but this team is all too real. The stage is set. Vegas vs Washington. In a town known for gambling, who will bluff first?
Article written by Rich Warnock
Photo courtesy of TopGlobalNews.org