I’m usually good at picking championship series/games, as you know by now. I’ve hit my last three World Series picks, last two Stanley Cup predictions, and last year’s NBA Finals. I missed narrowly with the Patriots this year (though I had the Eagles to cover the spread), and previously had hit three straight Super Bowls. So now I’m trying to break down a very interesting Stanley Cup matchup.
About a week ago, when the Vegas Golden Knights shut down the mighty Jets in five games, I was certain the expansion darlings of hockey were destined to be world champs. That was because I’ve been much lower on Tampa Bay this year than most people, but it looked like the Lightning were going to represent the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals. Then, a funny thing happened: the Capitals stopped looking like a true D.C. sports team and started playing legitimate championship hockey.
Along the way, the Caps have been disposing of past demons like John Tortorella, Sidney Crosby, and Ryan McDonagh. Now, they have one more to deal with — Marc-Andre Fleury. Somehow, this feels like a true mission for the Caps, and it’s hard to envision their run to glory cut down near the end by an expansion team. Mind you, this is no ordinary first-year club. Riding the “Vegas Strong” moniker after the mass shooting prior to the season, the Knights broke all sorts of records en route to a 51-win season as they captured the Pacific division title.
Both teams are well-rested, even as the Caps have played four more playoff games total to this point. I always like to look at which team has had the tougher road to get here, and that would be Washington. Even forgetting the whole skeletons-in-the-closet angle for a moment, the Caps have already faced plenty of adversity on their road. They trailed 2-0 — losing both games at home, no less — to a red-hot Blue Jackets team. They lost a heartbreaking Game 1 to the Penguins, leaving many to believe they would once again succumb to the two-time defending champs. And they lost three straight after opening a 2-0 lead vs. Tampa Bay, only to rally with two dominant shutouts to close out the series.
I also look at the fact that the Knights are 12-3 (!) in 15 games and wonder if they’re supposed to be this dominant. They swept the Kings, who were good but not great. They beat the Sharks in six games, but I don’t think that’s saying all that much. They certainly were impressive in their 4-1 win over the Jets, but it’s fair to wonder if the Jets were somewhat spent from their previous seven-game affair against the top-seeded Predators.
Throw out home-ice advantage here too, because the Capitals are a robust 8-2 away from Capital One Arena this postseason. The Knights have gone 6-1 at home, but my feeling is they will split the first two games in Vegas before the series shifts back to D.C.
I’m very tempted to take Vegas, don’t get me wrong. The story is almost too good to be true. But ultimately, when it comes down to it, this is a hockey game, not a Hollywood script. The Capitals are finally at the apex of this window of opportunity, and have broken that weird, second-round D.C. sports curse. The city has not won a title since the 1991 Redskins, and Vegas will have many more cracks at this thing. Alex Ovechkin has finally taken over in a postseason, and the depth and grit of this Caps team should carry them to a title (finally). Prediction: Capitals in 6.