Our resident hockey Maven, Stan Fischler, shares his thoughts on the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
1. You have to be from Mars to bet against determined Washington in the Cup Final, and from Venus to bet against magical Vegas. Down here on Earth, Stanley predicts that the Caps will win their first Stanley.
2. Expect the overwhelmingly underrated Golden Knights to give Barry Trotz‘s intrepid skaters all kinds of conniptions because Vegas’ sextet is the real goods.
3. But this Capitals club has more guts up and down the lineup than any in the franchise’s history. It proved it by rallying from two games down with Columbus and rallying right down to their astonishing comeback.
4. Alex Ovechkin has moved over Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos, Connor McDavid and the rest of them as King of the NHL. His captaincy has never been better defined than by the leadership he’s displayed throughout the post-season.
5. Dislike Tom Wilson if you will — and many of you will — but his fighting spirit galvanized his Caps in Game 7 as much as the Ovi dynamo and Nicklas Backstrom‘s non-stop slick moves and, hey, Braden Holtby‘s emergence as Mister Clutch.
6. When a goalie like Holtby glues two straight shutouts together, it means that Lady Luck is in love with him. But as Tom Wilson so aptly put it, “You gotta earn luck.” That Braden did in the first two periods. By the third, Washington’s goaltender had broken the Lightning’s spirit. No more, no less.
7. Marc-Andre Fleury is every bit as good as Holtby, but the Caps arsenal is more explosive. And don’t underestimate motivation. The Maven hasn’t seen a more motivated team than Trotz’s trotters in Games 6 and 7.
8. The Most Incredible Hockey Story Of The Century — Vegas in the Final — has provoked many questions. Topping them all is the query for Penguins G.M. Jim Rutherford: Why in the world did you allow Marc-Andre Fleury to escape your grasp?
9. Then again, I would add that Rutherford signed Ryan Reaves to protect Sidney Crosby in the playoffs, yet moved the Big Guy at the Trade Deadline. All Reaves did was torpedo the Jets with the Conference-winner on Sunday.
10. No matter how you shake it, the biggest winners-losers in the Vegas-Jets series were as follows. Winner: Gerard Gallant who out-coached Loser, Paul Maurice by two countries’ (Canada-USA) miles. Winner: Marc-Andre Fleury who kept his mouth shut and the pucks out vs. Loser, Connor Hellebuyck, who talked too much and stopped too little.
11. Forget about Gallant as Coach of the Year — he’s Coach Of The Century. He should write a book, COACHING 101, and distribute it free of charge to his NHL colleagues.
12. Chapter One of Gallant’s coaching manual should be titled “ANALYTICS ARE FOR ASTRONOMERS, EYES ARE FOR HOCKEY COACHES.”
13. The difference between Patrik Laine, Mark Scheifele, Paul Stastny, Nikolaj Ehlers, Dustin Byfuglien and the Knights was teamwork.
14. Three words say it all for the Caps conquest: they deserve it. Trotz’s skaters came into the season with lowered expectations — but look who’s got the last laugh now.
15. The Caps gutsy game was evident by the manner in which they sacrificed their bodies to block shots throughout Game 7. Speaking of courage, how about Ovi defying tradition and embracing the Prince of Wales Trophy.
16. If I’m an owner of a team in the Missed Playoffs Club, I’d have my coaching staff analyzing Vegas tapes 24/7 until September.
17. Who do you figure to be the biggest Knights unknowns-to-stars after William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault and Nate Schmidt?
18. Erik Haula deserves a mention for netting 29 goals — his previous career-high was 14. Alex Tuch also provided good offensive output for his bottom-6 role (37 points in 78 regular-season games).
19. If any one player was snubbed for an end-of-season award, it’s Fleury. He didn’t get a Vezina Trophy nomination — likely because he played in 15 fewer games than nominees Andrei Vasilevskiy, Connor Hellebuyck and Pekka Rinne.
20. If I had a vote, Fleury would get the nod over Vasilevksiy. Not to say Vas didn’t have a fantastic season — 44 wins as a 23-year-old — but he had an inconsistent second half and went 5-5-0 in the final 10 games of the season. Vas really bombed in Game 7. He blew Ovi’s opening goal and deflated the arena.
21. Had the Lightning not gone 15-3-2 in the month of October, Vasilevkiy’s inconsistency later in the year could have cost them the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
22. Too bad Hellebuyck didn’t study his hockey history before yapping about his goaltending compared to Fleury’s: “I like my game, I like it a lot more than his. I like my details.”
23. Something similar happened in the 1947 Final, only instead of Hellebuyck, the goalie was Bill Durnan. The multi Vezina Trophy-winner, Durnan pulled a no-no by ridiculing his Toronto foes. Habs lost in six games.
24. Kevin Cheveldayoff kept a low profile during last year’s off-season. I’d recommend he do the same this summer. The Winnipeg Jets don’t need to fiddle with their roster much — but it should be a top priority to bring back Statsny before he gets too tempted by the free agent market.
25. Perhaps John Carlson — most sought-after UFA defenseman — can replace Toby Enstrom on Winnipeg’s blue line. He’s younger, more effective on both sides of the puck, and wouldn’t cost too much more than Enstrom would; plus, Toby’s contract is up this year anyway.
26. Why does the NHL need to change its expansion draft process as a result of Vegas going on a remarkable run to the Cup Final? Is it the NHL’s fault that Karlsson had 37 more goals than the previous season? Or that Gallant can turn fourth-liners such as you or I into productive NHL players?
27. In victory — as a one-man band — Ovechkin is nonpareil. Never has there been a super scorer so consistently physical, so dynamic a presence and so compelling a character.
28. Finally, a tip of The Maven’s fedora to the Lightning; a superior hockey team; well coached and balanced up and down the line. Something went wrong in Game 6 — maybe the incessant pounding by the Caps — and they lost it all in the finale.
29. Here’s to The Final Two; The Believe It Or Not Knights and the Indomitable Capitals. I hope it goes seven games!
30. A pair of the classiest Bolts were ex-Rangers Dan Girardi and Anton Stralman. “Give the Caps credit,” Girardi concluded, “they played a heck of a game.” Stralman added, “The Caps deserved to win.”
31. Another way to put it, the Capitals bent but never broke; the Bolts bent and then snapped in the third period.
32. There are no “Do-Overs” in the playoffs. Had there been, Yanni Gourde would have stuffed the open-netter (how did he ever miss that?) and Alex Killorn would have scored on his breakaway.
33. Mister Keen, Tracer of Los Persons is still on the lookout for Nikita Kucherov.
34. This from my very sharp sidekick, Brad Polk: “How about the George McPhee side story. In his first year as Caps’ general manager in 1997-98, they made it to their first Cup Final. Ran the Capitals for 17 years. Now, he builds the the Knights and gets them to the Final in their first year.”
35. So it’s on to Vegas on Monday for arguably the most unusual Stanley Cup Final since — well — I don’t know when. Sit back and enjoy!
P.S. One more thing: If I could give an award for Best Fan Post-Game Playoff Comment it goes to Kevin Gold. He’s a videographer for Digital Evidence Group in Washington and lives in Arlington, VA. He watched the game on TV at packed Verizon Center. His conclusion: “It was the best game to ever be seen in Verizon Center and it wasn’t even played there!” Love it.