The Washington Capitals have been labeled as playoff chokers for years, and up until the 2018 NHL postseason, it was a tough point to argue against. But after Alex Ovechkin and company dispatched the Tampa Bay Lightning in decisive fashion in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final to advance to the franchise’s first Stanley Cup final in two decades, the Caps are knocking on Lord Stanley’s door.
It won’t be easy, of course. The Capitals draw a tough matchup against the extremely surprising Vegas Golden Knights, a team that features a roster comprised of castoffs from other NHL teams. The Knights’ red-hot play this year is nothing short of unprecedented, and they’ve already gone down as the most successful expansion team in NHL history whether they win the Stanley Cup or not. Washington opened as +115 pre-series underdogs to win the first championship in team history.
So, do the Capitals really have what it takes to knock off the juggernaut Golden Knights and bring a long-awaited title back to D.C.? I believe the answer is yes. Here are three reasons why you should bet on Washington to win the 2018 Stanley Cup:
The Ovechkin Factor
At 32, Alex Ovechkin was widely regarded as the top player in the league without a Stanley Cup ring (or even an appearance in the final) before the playoffs began, but the Washington captain has delivered and then some for the Caps over the last month and a half. The Russian sniper, who has gathered every individual accolade possible during his Hall of Fame NHL career, set the pace for the Capitals against Tampa Bay in Game 7 of the East final by hammering a one-timer past goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy 62 seconds into the contest for what would eventually become the game-winning goal.
When the Capitals needed a boost, Ovechkin has been there to answer the call when it counts the most. The Golden Knights possess a litany of team-first players who clearly play very well with each other, yet they don’t have a true superstar. The Caps do, and he wears No. 8. Vegas netminder Marc-Andre Fleury is playing out of his mind right now, but if anyone can break through against him, it’s Ovie.
The Philadelphia Eagles proved that being tabbed as underdogs is not such a bad thing in the NFL playoffs en route to a 41-33 triumph over the heavily favored New England Patriots in Super Bowl 52, and the Capitals are in a similar boat right now. The Caps faced some early adversity after going down 2-0 to the Columbus Blue Jackets in the opening round before battling back to win the series. Washington found itself as an underdog against the archrival Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round before once again being underestimated vs the Lightning in the Eastern Conference final.
Eagles center Jason Kelce said “an underdog is a hungry dog” in an epic speech at Philly’s Super Bowl parade in February, and there’s no bigger pack of hungry dogs on the ice than a Capitals team that’s been consistently doubted and written off in the playoffs through the years. This season is different, and now that they’ve finally made it to the championship, the monkey is off their back. I wouldn’t expect them to take their collective foot off the gas pedal now.
Winning on the road is not an easy feat in the NHL playoffs, but the Capitals have mastered the art in spades heading into the Cup final. Through the first three rounds, Washington went a combined 8-2 SU away from home. In that span, the Caps potted 36 goals while letting in only 20. Numbers that solid on the road are hard to ignore.
The Caps’ penchant for producing away from home is especially important due to the Golden Knights’ dominance in Sin City. Vegas put together a sparkling 29-10-2 SU home record in the regular season and is 6-1 SU in its own barn in the playoffs. The “Vegas flu” has been plaguing opposing teams at T-Mobile Arena all year long, but I think the Capitals will be immune to it.
Despite these convincing points, Gilles Gallant disagrees and thinks the Vegas Golden Knights will win the Stanley Cup. You can check out his argument here.