It is a Stanley Cup Finals no one could have predicted, not only for the first-year expansion Vegas Golden Knights, but also for the Washington Capitals. The Capitals were the third pick to win the Eastern Conference, behind Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay.
Now the Capitals make their second only finals appearance, and are underdogs in Monday’s opening game. Washington opened at +125 to win at T-Mobile Arena, but the line has moved at some sportsbooks as high as +135. The Golden Knights began as a -145 favorite, but have moved up to -150.
Vegas is also a solid favorite to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup. At the beginning of the year odds were available at anywhere from 200/1 to 500/1, but those days are long gone. The Golden Knights have been bet down all the way to 5/7.
Washington wasn’t expected to make its second finals appearance, the first coming in 1998 where they were swept by the Detroit Red Wings. They opened the season at 10/1 and were as high as 14/1 before the playoffs. Now they are 5/4. In the regular season Vegas won both games the teams played, including a 3-0 shutout at home.
Home Dominance vs. Road Warriors
The Capitals are trying to win a playoff game on the road against a team that has been nearly flawless at home. In seven Golden Knights home games, the only loss was a double overtime defeat to the San Jose Sharks.
Washington has been just as impressive away from Capital One Arena. They are 8-2 as the visitor. It is their home record that is perplexing. They are 4-5, including losing the first two home games against Columbus.
Defenseman John Carlson tried to justify the team’s woeful record in front of their fans.
“We’ve put together some pretty darn good games at home that we just couldn’t find those little plays,” Carlson said, “The big moments that we didn’t take advantage of the in certain situations and that’s why our record is what is as at home and away.”
Forward Tom Wilson said they aren’t worried about the struggles at home.
“It doesn’t matter this time of year if you’re home or away,” Wilson said. “Every game is huge. The emotion’s going to be there.”
Goalie May be Key to Series
While the Golden Knights will have to contend with the depth of Washington, the Capitals will need to figure out how to make Vegas goalie Marc-Andre Fleury look human. The 33 year old has been nearly unbeatable in his three playoff series, and is 12-3 with a .947 save percentage and four shutouts.
Fleury has faced this team before. He was the starting goalie in Pittsburgh’s seven-game defeat of the Capitals in the second round last season. In the deciding game Alex Ovechkin thought he had a sure goal, but Fleury stopped it with the shaft of his stick.
“It’s one of the best shots in the league,” Fleury said on Saturday, reminiscing about the improbable save.
Ovechkin said the Capitals know how good Fleury is and will have to get some pucks past him on a consistent basis to have a chance to win.
“He’s a great goalie, he knows how to win,” Ovechkin said. “It’s always challenging to play against the best.”