NHL Network Radio’s Mick Kern on the 2018 Stanley Cup Final

2018 Stanley Cup Final

A detailed view of the jerseys of the Washington Capitals and the Vegas Golden Knights during Media Day for the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Final at T-Mobile Arena on May 27, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Every spring around this time, the hockey world waxes poetically about the matchup in the Stanley Cup Final.  Often they stretch the superlatives, turning up the sizzle on a meagre steak.

Not this time.

The choice cut steak on the menu is the expansion Vegas Golden Knights taking on the usually woe begotten Washington Capitals.  The 2018 Stanley Cup Final features a marquee listing that nobody (again…nobody) ever expected to see up in lights.

And up in lights it is, as Lord Stanley’s yearly Challenge Cup showdown opens up in Las Vegas, Nevada.  The entertainment capital of the Planet Earth. For years, the NHL has staged their yearly Awards Show (resplendent with lame jokes ala the Vegas of yore), so it’s only natural that the league’s biggest showcase now be staged on The Strip.

That has enraged a sizeable contingent of hockey fans, who have taken to social media, phone in shows, and water coolers, to vent their frustration and jealousy over a first year franchise getting to the big dance before their beloved team.

Meaning the Vegas Golden Knights beat these NHL franchises to the Stanley Cup Final; Arizona Coyotes, Minnesota Wild, Columbus Blue Jackets, and Winnipeg Jets.

Teams that haven’t stepped foot in the Cup Final in years (decades) include the Toronto Maple Leafs, St. Louis Blues, New York Islanders, Montreal Canadiens, and Buffalo Sabres, just for starters.

The Golden Knights cutting to the front of that line turns an unwelcome spotlight on to the trials and tribulations of these aforementioned teams.  “Why not us?  What’s taking our team so long?  What do you mean, five year plan”, and so on.

Yes, the NHL granted the Knights the most generous expansion draft since the league doubled in size in 1967, but that’s not solely why the new kid on the block is there right now.

General Manager George McPhee, and his carefully constructed management team, did their homework, the homework of their friend, and the homework of the cute girl next door.  Sure, they rolled the dice, and it came up 7’s on more than one occasion, but that’s not their fault.

Who saw Columbus Blue Jackets’ castoff William Karlsson potting 43 goals?  Not even Mama Karlsson.  Okay, goaltender Marc Andre Fleury was a nice addition between the pipes, but a couple of things on that.

He was injured for the first part of the 2017-18 regular season, yet Vegas ticked on.  More importantly, we all pretty much knew the Pittsburgh Penguins were going to keep younger (and cheaper) Matt Murray in net, so Vegas could pick up Fleury.  But, most of us (admit it) thought the best before date had passed on MAF.  I don’t recall very many people predicting the three time Stanley Cup champion (and counting) goaltender would deliver arguably the best hockey of his storied career…though he last was the starting netminder in the 2009 Cup Final.  Murray carried the mail in the Final the past two seasons.

We all circled the NHL trade deadline this past February 26th as the day forward James Neal would be moved.  He’s an unrestricted free agent as of this July.  Besides, nobody had Vegas making the playoff cut in the West.

Except they were amongst the top teams in the league with March quickly approaching.  So Neal stayed in Nevada.

All these things were theoretically predictable, except nobody would be mad enough to predict them.  So nobody did.

That’s one half of this matchup.  Over in the other corner, wearing the red-white-and-blue shorts, stand the other half of this matchup, the Washington Capitals.

Yes, the same Caps who became famous for not being able to make it to the Stanley Cup Final during superstar forward Alexander Ovechkin’s tenure.  Since he entered the league in time for the 2005-06 campaign, eight different Eastern Conference franchises have represented the bracket in the Final.  Even the similarly snake bitten San Jose Sharks, the Western Conference equivalent of the Capitals, made it to the Final in that time span.

It’s only fitting that Washington finally gets back there in the year of the Dark Horse, the first time back in the Final since being swept by the powerhouse Detroit Red Wings in the 1998 Stanley Cup Final.

So, who do you like?  The fairy tale Washington Capitals, or the even more mythical Vegas Golden Knights?  It appears most people believe the Knights can cap off this unimaginable season with the big mug raised over their heads sometime in the next two weeks.  But it also seems that more people are pulling for the Capitals.

Because “they deserve it”.  Hockey fans buy big time in to the narrative that one has to earn their way to a Stanley Cup.  Earn as in heartbreak after heartbreak, and near misses.  The Capitals fit that ethos to a T.  The Golden Knights are perceived as interlopers, thus they haven’t “earned” it.

Which is folly, but we’re talking an emotional response to the biggest series of the season.  Because it’s sports, and even with the rise and adoption of analytics, the heart still wants what the heart wants.

Alex Ovechkin or Marc-Andre Fleury?  Probably, no, definitely the two leading candidates for the Conn Smythe Trophy as top player in the playoffs.

It would be fantastic to see the wide grin of Ovechkin stretch even wider as he accept the Cup from the Commissioner.  But if you’re a betting person, why would you now go against those Golden Knights?

SiriusXM NHL Network Radio has the 2018 Stanley Cup Final covered…

Monday May 28th

8 pm ET – WASHINGTON at LAS VEGAS GAME 1

NATIONAL CALL – SIRIUS XM 91

GOLDEN KNIGHTS – SIRIUSXM 167 – CANADA TALKS

CAPITALS CALL – SIRIUS 217 XM 219

 

Wednesday May 30th

8 pm ET – WASHINGTON at LAS VEGAS GAME 2

NATIONAL CALL – SIRIUS XM 91

GOLDEN KNIGHTS – SIRIUSXM 167 – CANADA TALKS

CAPITALS CALL – SIRIUS 217 XM 219

 

Saturday June 2nd

8 pm ET – LAS VEGAS at WASHINGTON GAME 3

NATIONAL CALL – SIRIUS XM 91

CAPITALS CALL – SIRIUSXM 167 – CANADA TALKS

GOLDEN KNIGHTS- SIRIUS 217 XM 219

 

Monday June 4th

8 pm ET – LAS VEGAS at WASHINGTON GAME 4

NATIONAL CALL – SIRIUS XM 91

CAPITALS CALL – SIRIUSXM 167 – CANADA TALKS

GOLDEN KNIGHTS – SIRIUS 217 XM 219

 

Thursday June 7th

8 pm ET – WASHINGTON at LAS VEGAS GAME 5

NATIONAL CALL – SIRIUS XM 91

GOLDEN KNIGHTS – SIRIUSXM 167 – CANADA TALKS

CAPITALS CALL – SIRIUS 217 XM 219

 

Sunday June 10th

8 pm ET – LAS VEGAS at WASHINGTON GAME 6

NATIONAL CALL – SIRIUS XM 91

CAPITALS CALL – SIRIUSXM 167 – CANADA TALKS

GOLDEN KNIGHTS – SIRIUS 217 XM 219

 

Wednesday June 13th

8 pm ET – WASHINGTON at LAS VEGAS GAME 7

NATIONAL CALL – SIRIUS XM 91

GOLDEN KNIGHTS – SIRIUSXM 167 – CANADA TALKS

CAPITALS CALL – SIRIUS 217 XM 219

 

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