I think the writing was on the wall after the Pens allowed the Flyers to steal two games in the first round and score nine goals at PPG Paints Arena.
It didn’t feel like the same Pittsburgh team that won the Stanley Cup two years in a row. I’m not sure Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel were themselves. Derick Brassard was whatever. I’m sure we’ll soon hear about the mystery injuries they were playing with this entire time. Braden Holtby was better than Matt Murray. The Capitals actually kept their composure and got the job done after losing three-straight second round playoff series.
So I woke up this morning feeling refreshed. It’s not a boorish “ha ha Pittsburgh lost” kind of thing, since I think it’s kind of corny to cheer for another team to lose. I’m just enjoying the new blood and new storylines that we’re seeing in the NHL playoffs.
For starters, the Western Conference is fascinating. One of Vegas, Winnipeg, or Nashville will be in the Stanley Cup finals. We’ve got an expansion team playing the winner of small-market Canada vs. small-market Bible Belt. The Preds forced a game seven last night, and I highly recommend tuning in because the series has been wonderful to watch. Each team has won twice on the road and game two was a double-overtime thriller. Set your DVR for Thursday at 8 p.m. Please. Just do it.
As for VGK, they’ve quietly been the most interesting story in all of American sports this year. Seriously. They are probably the most best expansion team, ever.
From Berry Tramel at NewsOK.com:
The National Hockey League expansion franchise posted a stunning record of 51-24-7, for 109 points, fifth-most in the NHL. And the Golden Knights got me to thinking. Is this the greatest expansion team of all time, any sport?
The answer is, absolutely.
No baseball expansion franchise ever so much as posted a winning record in Year 1, much less made the playoffs.
No NBA expansion franchise ever posted a winning record in Year 1, but the NBA post-season is bloated, so the 1967 Bulls made the playoffs despite a 33-48 record.
No NFL expansion franchise ever posted a winning record in Year 1 or made the playoffs.
Until Vegas, no NHL expansion franchise ever posted a winning record.
Crazy, isn’t it?
I remember an expansion Chicago Fire team winning the 1998 MLS Cup, but the league only 12 teams back then, so it’s nothing like what VGK is doing this season, cruising through a competitive Pacific division. They’re a chip-on-shoulder combination of expansion leftovers, draft picks, and trade block fodder. Put those types around a cup-winning goaltender in Marc-Andre Fleury, and here we are.
I guarantee that Vegas vs. Nashville or Winnipeg will be an outstanding series. It might not seem flashy from a high-profile, somewhat ignorant east coast perspective, but I highly, highly suggest finding a way to watch the Western Conference finals. You’ve got rising stars like Patrik Laine and Bill Karlsson and Viktor Arvidsson performing like grizzled vets.
You also get stuff like this from guys who have been doing it all season long:
— Stadium (@WatchStadium) May 8, 2018
On the other side, we’ve got Tampa vs. Washington, two teams that I don’t mind at all. I mean, it’s not the Pens, Rangers, Bruins, or Devils, ya know? I don’t hate the Lightning. I love watching Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos play. And I don’t hate the Caps, either. I wouldn’t mind seeing Ovie lift the cup.
Enjoy the call:
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) May 8, 2018
I think Tampa Bay is the better team, but it basically comes to down to which goaltender holds up the longest, or which defenseman’s legs fall off first. Victor Hedman, Matt Niskanen, and John Carlson are all top-12 in TOI per game this postseason. It will be a war of attrition. Last defenseman standing.
If nothing else, we’ve got a good chance to see something different this season, and that’s the biggest draw for me as a casual ice hockey observer.
I’ll leave you with this:
With Caps, Lightning, Golden Knights and either Predators or Jets as final four, NHL guaranteed to have new Cup champion in salary-cap era. TB is only team of five to win it, doing so in 2004.
— Stephen Whyno (@SWhyno) May 8, 2018
Prediction: Preds over Lightning in seven games. Peter Laviolette lifts Lord Stanley’s Cup. Let’s get some jam in the building.