ARLINGTON, Va. -- When the Vegas Golden Knights were getting ready to open their inaugural NHL season in October, Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz was often asked by the media if he had any advice for the expansion team.
Trotz went through the process of starting from scratch in a market as the first coach of the expansion Nashville Predators in 1998, and he remembered the importance of embracing the honky-tonk culture of that city in helping the team establish roots.
His advice to the Golden Knights was simple: "Do it the Vegas way."
"That's what we did in Nashville," Trotz said Saturday. "Vegas is like no city on the planet. It's one to its own, so don't try to be New York or Washington or Boston or anything like that. Just be Vegas, and they are."
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The Capitals will experience "the Vegas way" on a new level when they face the Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Final. Game 1 is at T-Mobile Arena on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS).
They got a taste of it when they played the Golden Knights for the first time on Dec. 23 in Las Vegas. The Capitals saw the extravagant pregame show featuring a castle, a glowing drum line and a sword-wielding Golden Knight character on skates. Then the Golden Knights overwhelmed them early, scoring three times in the opening 14:55 on their way to a 3-0 victory.
"It was crazy and it was a little bit different for us, going to a new place for the first time," Capitals defenseman John Carlson said. "They're obviously a good team. These are all factors that matter wherever you go. But certainly, they've earned that home-ice advantage with their fans and with the energy that they bring there."
That energy has gone up a notch during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and the Golden Knights have fed off it. They are 6-1 at home in the postseason.
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The Capitals paid closer attention as the teams moved closer to a potential Stanley Cup Final meeting. They saw how the Golden Knights, fueled by the crowd energy enhanced by the pre-game show, jumped on the Winnipeg Jets to score early goals in winning each of their two home games in the Western Conference Final.
"Obviously, we were keeping an eye on them and the Jets playing," Trotz said. "Their whole game production is impressive. I'm glad they do what they do. … It's entertainment. You always have to remember we're in the entertainment business. We're not curing cancer and we're not scientists or anything. We're entertainers, and Vegas has got a great entertainment community and a great entertainment element to their game.
"That's how you bring fans, and they've done a great job."
Although the Capitals didn't fare well in their lone visit to Vegas during the regular season, they've been impressive on the road during the playoffs, going 8-2. The eight road wins are a team record and two off the NHL record for most in a playoff year shared by the 2012 Los Angeles Kings, the 2004 Calgary Flames and the 1995 and 2000 New Jersey Devils.
The Tampa Bay Lightning went 5-1 at home during the first two rounds of the playoffs against the New Jersey Devils and the Boston Bruins, and the Capitals won three of the four games in Tampa in the Eastern Conference Final, including a 4-0 victory in Game 7. Trotz acknowledged the Stanley Cup Final will be a, "different stage, different circumstances," but believes the Capitals will be ready for it.
"I think this group understands," he said. "These moments only come around once in a while, if they even do for some. Make the most of it. This is a bigger stage. Different things are going to happen. Things from practice times to media availability to start times. We're starting 5 p.m. out west, and out east we're 8. You've got to get used to those type of things and understand that all the things that we've had thrown at us, the curveballs or what have you. We've dealt with them pretty well. So I don't see us not dealing with those type of curveballs that come with the bigger stage."
Las Vegas has plenty of distractions that could cause visitors to lose focus, but Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin made it clear Saturday that he and his teammates are going there on business.
"We're going there to play hockey, not to pool party and play in casino," he said. "We're going there to play hockey and do our thing and then we're going to have all the summer and whatever we want to do, we can do it."
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