As the NHL lines leaned toward, the Vegas Golden Knights defeated the Florida Panthers to win the first game of the Stanley Cup Final. This feels familiar as Vegas also won Game 1 of their 2018 Finals appearance against Washington and by 2+ goals. Vegas won at home as the Game 1 favorite just as it was favored to win the series.
Could this be a repeat of the 2018 Final or will Vegas go all the way? While there are similarities in these two series, this Vegas team is a better version of the one from five years back.
The Capitals lost Game 1 of the 2018 SCF to the Golden Knights.
It dropped the Capitals to 0-5 all-time in the SCF. The Panthers are now 0-5 all-time in the SCF.
The Golden Knights went up 1-0 in 2018 and lost the next four to Washington. The Golden Knights just went up 1-0…
— Jackson Didlake (@diidlake) June 4, 2023
Washington vs Florida: Opponents Share Similar Stories
Vegas beat Washington in Game 1 but lost the next four games as the Capitals won their first and only Stanley Cup. Washington, like Florida, came into the series as underdogs. Even if Washington was not the lowest seed entering the playoffs, this team was also listed at 11-1 in the preseason NHL odds to win the cup.
And just like Florida, Washington started their 2018 playoffs run on a sour note. The Capitals lost their first two games against the Blue Jackets, which prompted them to switch goaltenders going from Philip Grubauer to a former Vezina Trophy winner, Braden Holtby.
The “washed up” Holtby then played some of his best hockey as he led the Capitals to the Finals not unlike Sergei Bobrovsky. The two-time Vezina Trophy winner was benched in favor of Alex Lyon in the regular season. But with Lyon’s early struggles, Bobrovsky got another crack at the starting job and never looked back.
Other than Holtby, Alex Ovechkin also led Washington. The team’s captain and best player led the Capitals with 12 goals and 22 points heading to the Final. He almost single-handedly carried the team in scoring much like Florida’s Matthew Tkachuk in his series against Boston and Carolina.
For fans who believe in deja vu, this may be a point to bet online on. Both Washington and Florida are similar in a sense. But the Golden Knights teams they faced are quite different.
Vegas is the Same But Different
Five years is a long time in the NHL. There are only six original members of the 2018 Golden Knights remaining on the roster. But these six players have continued to play pivotal roles for the Knights. In fact, forwards Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith scored the first and final goals for Vegas in Game 1’s victory.
The other four are forwards William Karlsson and William Carrier and defensemen Shea Theodore and Brayden McNabb. Along with Marchessault amd Smith, Karlsson has logged big minutes for Vegas. In fact, he is tied with Marchessault for the team-lead in goals (10).
Theodore and McNabb both also played as top four defensemen while Carrier makes NHL news with big games (like Game 6 versus Dallas) here and there.
These originals constitute most of Vegas’s most important players. But they’re just the tip of the iceberg as the likes of Jack Eichel, Alex Pietrangelo, and Mark Stone bring more firepower and playoff experience in the case of the latter two.
Eichel has not scored a goal in his last eight games but has seven assists in this span – six at even strength. He leads the team in scoring with 20 points. Stone has 16 and is third and the two log the most ice time among forwards. Pietrangelo is tied with Theodore for most points (nine) among defensemen and logs the most average ice time.
The New Knight: Vegas’s Secret Weapon?
But most notably, Vegas’ biggest edge here could be in goal. Adin Hill may not have a name like Marc-Andre Fleury, but he’s played better. Fleury let in four goals in Game 1 against Washington and had just an 85.3 save percent when the Final ended.
Hill was a big difference-maker in Vegas’s win over Florida. He turned aside 33 of the 35 shots he faced and brought up his save percentage to 93.8%. If he can keep this up, Vegas will be the right NHL pick to maintain their series lead.