Ten things to consider in the Vegas-Washington Stanley Cup Final
In a conference call previewing the Stanley Cup Final between the Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights that begins Monday night, NBC play-by-play man Mike “Doc” Emrick had a suggestion for sports writers.
“What you might want to do,” Emrick said, “is maybe a column that will have the top 10 things to consider going into this final series, because I think you’re loaded with them.”
You got it, Doc.
1. MVP candidates
With a 12-3 record and 1.68 goals-against average, Marc-Andre Fleury is the prohibitive favorite to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. He’s been so good through three rounds that it is possible Fleury takes the award over top-line forwards Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov and goalie Braden Holtby — even if the Capitals win the series.
2. Heavyweight fight
If physical Washington winger Tom Wilson asserts himself in the series, Vegas has an answer in Ryan Reaves, who was acquired from the Penguins at the trade deadline. While with the Penguins, Reaves said he offered to fight Wilson on several occasions, but his invitation was not accepted.
3. Captain’s duties
The Golden Knights don’t have a captain, opting to use multiple alternates instead, but there’s little question about who will take the Stanley Cup from commissioner Gary Bettman should Vegas win it. Former Penguin Deryk Engelland, who has called Las Vegas home for more than a decade and met his wife there, is the team’s de facto captain.
4. Budding star
While Ovechkin is having a strong postseason, scoring 12 goals in 19 games, the league leader in playoff scoring is Kuznetsov, with 24 points. Kuznetsov is a key figure in Washington’s counterattack offense and could be taking the next step into NHL stardom.
5. Payday coming
The biggest winner, financially, from the Stanley Cup playoffs might be Capitals coach Barry Trotz. After years of playoff disappointment, Washington management didn’t extend Trotz’s contract beyond this season. If he doesn’t stay with the Capitals, he likely will get a lucrative deal as a “free agent.”
6. Real deal
Former Penguins winger James Neal has had a relatively quiet postseason, scoring four goals in 15 games, but he also is in line for a big payday as an unrestricted free agent this summer.
7. Top defenseman
Washington’s John Carlson is leading the league in defenseman scoring in the playoffs with 16 points in 19 games. He will be the most sought-after free agent defenseman on the market this summer by far.
8. GM meetings
Vegas general manager George McPhee, formerly of the Capitals, essentially crafted the roster of both teams. He and Washington GM Brian MacLellan were college roommates at Bowling Green.
9. Power outage
A red flag popped up for the Capitals late in the Eastern Conference finals when they were given a total of three power plays in the last three games of the series. We apparently have reached the point in the postseason where referees swallow their whistles, and Washington relies on its special teams heavily to have success.
10. Injury report
Center Nicklas Backstrom, a key two-way performer for Washington, clearly is playing through a significant hand injury. In the handshake line at the end of the Eastern Conference finals, he greeted Lightning players with his left hand.