Can we all just pretend that nothing unusual is happening here, that all that history of better Caps rosters and younger fresher Ovechkin legs didn’t fail so heartbreakingly for basically ever?
Whatever you have been doing this past month plus, keep doing it. Why or more importantly how this happened is part of the hockey netherworld that no human has yet to fully comprehend.
How could the 4th or 5th best team Alex Ovechkin has played on be the one that finally breaks through? How could Barry Trotz on the final year of his contract, assumed to be fired by December at the latest survive?
Remember when experts thought the Caps would trade Alex Ovechkin last summer?
So, how do they win this thing? Well, lets start with the obvious: They’ve already beaten two teams who by anyone’s standard has to be considered a superior opponent. It was physical domination of Tampa Bay and maybe the most telling win in this run: defeating two time defending champion Pittsburgh on their home ice without Nick Backstrom, Tom Wilson or Andre Burakovsky. So no offense to Vegas but the likelihood of intimidation here is slim. So lets get to the real issues as the Caps seek their first Stanley Cup.
1) Braden Holtby. So in game six against Sid and the Pens, Holtby gives up a single goal and in games 6 and 7 against the Lightning (arguably the most prolific team in the league) he is impenetrable. Should Holtby be this version in the next series, Jackpot. What happens in Vegas is the Caps bring the Cup home with them. Vegas is a great story but the real reason they are here is the play of their netminder Marc Andre Fluery, a seasoned champ who Caps fans know well as the artist formerly known for his Penguin inflicted pain.
2) The Physical play. The game six domination of the Lightning was utterly shocking. Washington has an unusual top line with the eagerly aggressive Tom Wilson and Alex Ovechkin. Should they continue to be missiles, the probability of Evgeny Kuznetsov getting some space and opportunities will be high. Here’s the biggest question: does Vegas think they are playing with house money? They truly have nothing to lose and the Caps know better then anyone this may never happen again. If Washington wins game one and is the aggressor, it’s reasonable to think destiny is truly on their side.
3) The Defense. Here’s a first, Washington mastered their defensive system to completely lock down two of the best offenses in the game. Vegas won’t bring the names but what they will profile is the misses some franchises made by letting a couple of heavy hitters walk. William Karlsson was third in the league in goals with 43. His plus minus (49) was by far the best in the NHL, next closest (36). Top to bottom the scoring threats aren’t as prevalent like with Pittsburgh or Tampa Bay but what they do have is a bunch of depth and clearly a ton of heart.