The pressure and intensity heighten as the Stanley Cup Playoffs progress. There are so many factors that influence each hockey game – let alone a series, or an entire playoff run – and of course, there’s randomness. It makes predicting anything in the playoffs a challenge.
Here are Blueshirt Banter, we’ve complied predictions from all 13 of our contributors throughout the playoffs. We’ve picked both the team we think will be victorious and the series length.
How did we do in Round 3?
Eleven of us thought the Winnipeg Jets would be moving on to the Stanley Cup Final from the Western Conference. The only two to select the Golden Knights were Miika and Beth; both though, had the series going the full length. The Golden Knights actually only needed five (!) games to eliminate the Jets.
Even though they were off on series length in the West, Beth and Miika clearly won this round with their predictions.
Stanley Cup Final Predictions
After making our predictions throughout the playoffs, we’re up to a Stanley Cup Final that many didn’t anticipate: the Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights.
The Capitals (49-26-7, 105 points, first in Metropolitan), fell 0-2 to the Columbus Blue Jackets to open the playoffs, but won the next four straight to move on the semifinals. From there, they battled the back-to-back Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins in another six-game series. For the first time in the Alex Ovechkin era, they went on to the Eastern Conference Final. Washington went up 2-0 against the Tampa Bay Lightning, then lost the next three straight. Two more wins later, and they qualified for the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1998.
The Golden Knights (51-24-7, 109 points, first in Pacific) have created history all postseason. First, they swept the Los Angeles Kings. Then, they defeated the San Jose Sharks in six games. Their latest victory came over the Winnipeg Jets, even though they were without home ice for the first time in the playoffs. After a Game 1 loss, Vegas won the next four straight, and now they’ll have home ice against the Capitals in the Final.
So how do these teams match up?
In the regular season, the Golden Knights would have had an edge in their 5-on-5 shot share with a 50.96 percent Corsi, to the Capitals’ 47.99 percent. Despite the Capitals quality over quantity approach this season, the Golden Knights still had a higher expected goals percentage (50.67 to 46.88) because they created a slightly higher rate of quality chances for and allowed much fewer against. But in terms of actual goals, the Capitals weren’t that far behind the Golden Knights’ 2.62 per 60 (with 2.56 per 60), and they allowed a slightly lower rate against (2.32 to 2.34 per 60).
As for special teams, the Capitals 22.5 percent efficient power play ranked seventh in the league, while the Golden Knights’ 11th ranked power play operated at 21.4 percent. But Vegas had better underlying numbers on the man advantage – from how they created shots and quality chances, to the shot attempts they allowed against. On the other side of the ice, the Golden Knights’ penalty kill was more efficient (12th ranked, 81.4 percent to the Capitals’ 15th rank and 80.3 percent) and had better underlying numbers.
Vegas had better regular season goaltending as well, in both all situations and 5-on-5. In all situations, Marc-Andre Fleury earned a .926 save percentage and 14.95 goals saved above average, while Braden Holtby had a .907 save percentage and minus-2.16 GSAA; Fleury’s 5-on-5 netminding ranked more highly as well.
But, as history has shown, regular season accomplishments don’t always translate to the postseason.
Through three rounds, the Capitals improved to 49.67 percent Corsi team while the Golden Knights dipped to 49.82 percent; Vegas has taken shots a higher rate, but Washington has suppressed more against. Both teams are just above 50 percent in terms of expected goals as well (50.9 percent for the Capitals and 50.35 percent for the Golden Knights). Again, Vegas is creating more quality chances, but Washington’s better at limited those chances against. As for actual goals though, the Golden Knights have scored 67.44 percent of the goals through 15 games, while the Capitals are just under 57 percent.
The Capitals have an edge on the power play, which has operated at 28.8 percent as opposed to the 17.6 percent the Golden Knights’ man advantage is operating at now, and they have the superior underlying numbers to match. It’ll be important for the Golden Knights to stay disciplined and avoid allowing the Capitals on the power play in the first place, but if they do end up in the box, their penalty kill has operated at 82.5 percent so far, while the Capitals are at 75.4 percent. But there’s a disparity in their underlying numbers – Vegas allows a much higher shot rate against and more goals are expected to be scored on them based on quality of chances allowed. The difference between their 7.99 per 60 expected goals against on the penalty kill and 5.83 actual goals against? Fleury.
Fleury has been absolutely outstanding this postseason. His play between the pipes has led the way for the Golden Knights. In all situations, he’s earned a .947 save percentage and 17.56 GSAA in all situations; at 5-on-5 he has a .960 save percentage and 13.89 GSAA. He’s playing much better than he’s expected to, and is the biggest reason the his team has made it this far. A hot goaltender can make or break a team in the playoffs, but goaltending is still fickle, so it’s hard to rely on it throughout the postseason. Fleury’s done it so far, but can he continue it? History says probably not, but he’s shown otherwise up to this point.
On the other side of the ice, the Capitals aren’t without great goaltending. Holtby’s regular season wasn’t to awe-inspiring, in fact, he wasn’t even their starter to end the year or start the postseason, it was Phillipp Grubauer. But since Holtby’s regained the net in Game 3 of the quarterfinals, his play has been crucial for his team. He’s accumulated a .924 save percentage and 4.37 GSAA in all situations, plus a .938 save percentage and 6.1 GSAA at 5-on-5.
Along with goaltending, the top players up front on these teams have been pivotal throughout the playoffs. In Washington, Alex Ovechkin and his 22 points in 19 games and Evgeny Kuznetsov (24 points) have been game-changers for their team. One of their other top players, Nicklas Backstrom is playing injured, and it remains to be seen how much it affects his play. But, they also have T.J. Oshie, who has elevated his game this postseason. Some of their depth players have stood out well, like Lars Eller and Jakub Vrana.
For Vegas, it’s their dynamic first line of Jonathan Marchessault (18 points), Reilly Smith (16 points), and William Karlsson (13 points) that have led the way just about all season. Alex Tuch and James Neal have complimented their top players so far this postseason too, but if they wanted to make their forward group a little deeper, they’d probably let Tomas Tatar play more than six games after adding him at the deadline.
The Capitals’ defense is highlighted by bigger names like John Carlson, Matt Niskanen, and Dmitry Orlov. The Golden Knights’ on the other hand, is filled with players that stepped into expanded roles this season – but their top two of Shea Theodore and Nate Schmidt (formerly of the Capitals) didn’t just prove themselves in the regular season, they’ve continued to in the playoffs as well. And now Schmidt gets to show Barry Trotz exactly why he deserved more ice time last season.
There’s a lot to consider when predicting who will win the Stanley Cup this year. Either way it’ll be the team’s first time hoisting the Stanley Cup in franchise history, but it means something different for each. For the Capitals, it could be the year they finally do it, even though they’ve had more impressive teams in the past. For the Golden Knights, it’s history and continuing the magic from the year.
Eleven of us picked the Capitals to win it all this year and two are predicting a Golden Knights’ victory.
And here’s the thought process for each our predictions:
Mike: WSH 5, I still can’t explain what the hell the Vegas Golden Knights are, so Ovechkin and the Caps winning it in five games because why not?
Joe: WSH 6, I just think Washington’s offense is going to be too much for Vegas’ defense, and Fleury can’t keep playing this far above water right?
Miika: VGK 7, Vegas in 7… mostly because I’m very interested to see what ice in Nevada looks like in mid-June. Yadda yadda Las Vegas, yadda yadda Lucky Seven. You get the idea.
Kevin: WSH 6, Honestly? Nothing about these playoffs make a lick of sense and Alexander Ovechkin has finally earned this.
Beth: WSH 6, This playoffs has been less about who’s going to win, and more about who refuses to lose.
Jack: VGK 5, Neither Vegas nor Washington fits the mold of a traditional Cup contender, so this series will be about which clock strikes midnight first. Give me the hot goalie over anything and everything.
Pat: WSH 7, I’d say Caps in 7 because it’s not too cold and not too warm – all you need is a light jacket, but if that movie reference (I’ve never actually seen the movie) doesn’t work it’s because “The Caps are bad but Alex Ovechkin is extremely good.”
Tom: WSH 6, I didn’t think the Vegas Golden Knights would be in this situation. I really thought the Winnipeg Jets had what it took to get to the Final, and after Game 1 I was feeling good about my wager on WPG. Then the rest of the series happened, and here we are. The Washington Capitals run to the Final is even more surprising. They have had far more talented teams come short in previous years, but hey, I guess that’s what can happen when Henrik Lundqvist isn’t in the playoffs. This squad found a way to come out of an 0-2 hole against the Columbus Blue Jackets, defeat their archnemisis Pittsburgh Penguins, and recover against a Tampa Bay Lightning team who won three in a row after dropping the first against the Caps. Alexander Ovechkin looks motivated as ever, and I think that he’s going to do whatever is necessary to get the job done. That, and I don’t see Marc-Andre Fleury continuing to defy logic with a 13.89 GSAA and .960 save percentage 5-on-5.
Adam: WSH 5, I’ve incorrectly bet against Las Vegas the entire season, so why stop now?
Bryan: WSH 6, I’ve stuck with Vegas through the first three rounds, but I think it’s finally time for Ovechkin to have his chance at glory.
Scott: WSH 6, As much fun as it’d be to see the entire hockey world have a meltdown over a Vegas win, I can’t bet against the Great Eight. It finally looks like his time to win this year.
Phil: WSH 6, I can think of no narrative better deserving of death than the one that slags Ovechkin as a playoff bust. Tell it to his pending Cup ring.
Shayna: WSH 6, I thought the Golden Knights would win a series, maybe even two, but by no means did I think they’d make it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final. So few goaltenders have been able to maintain this level of play through the playoffs, yet Fleury’s done just that. Really, as a whole, Vegas continues to prove me wrong because logic and numbers apparently don’t matter there. As much as it’s not a win without a Stanley Cup after getting this far for either team, it really isn’t for the Capitals, so maybe they will actually do the damn thing. The Capitals have fought off so many of their demons, and they didn’t crash and burn after finally getting past the Penguins, so I’m leaning towards them. Maybe it is time for Ovechkin and Backstrom to get their Cup (but Wilson, you can wait for yours).
*All data via Corsica.hockey