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Capitals, Golden Knights a great Cup Final, NBC Sports analysts say

Olczyk, McGuire, Milbury see Ovechkin quest, expansion team's success among exciting storylines

by David Satriano @davidsatriano / NHL.com Staff Writer

The Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights likely weren't predicted by many to be the last two teams standing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but each are four wins away from their first title.

The Capitals will be making their first Cup Final appearance since 1998 against the Golden Knights, who are in their inaugural NHL season. Game 1 of the best-of-7 series is at Vegas on Monday (8 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS).

"An incredible story," NBC Sports analyst Ed Olczyk said Thursday. "A team that hasn't even been around for one year. And to see where the Washington Capitals were after the first two games of the playoffs, losing both games at home (to the Columbus Blue Jackets) ... just an incredible, resilient bunch to get to this stage and to get an opportunity [to win the Cup] in the Alex Ovechkin era."

 

[RELATED: Complete Golden Knights vs. Capitals series coverage Stanley Cup Final schedule]

 

Washington defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-0 in Game 7 on Wednesday to win the Eastern Conference.

"The playoffs that [Ovechkin] has had, the domination that he has had even when he is not scoring, he is influencing the outcome of games," analyst Pierre McGuire said. "Mobility we haven't seen from him probably since he's been in his first three years in the League. He's just gotten quicker and he's gotten stronger and I think that's a testament to his game."

Video: Breaking down Ovechkin's Game 7 performance

Lead NBC Sports play-by-play announcer Doc Emrick said the two likely Conn Smythe Trophy candidates for the Stanley Cup Playoffs were "wearing No. 8 and No. 29," referring to Ovechkin and Golden Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who won the Cup three times with the Pittsburgh Penguins (2009, 2016, 2017) and was selected by Vegas in the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft.

"The real feel-good story is Fleury," analysist Mike Milbury said. "Here he is. A championship-caliber goalie and all of a sudden he is on the outs with a young goaltender in [Matt] Murray pushing him out the door (in Pittsburgh). Even while he is being slid out the door, he's still helping them win Stanley Cups [in 2016 and 2017]. Then he gets a chance to reinvigorate himself in a new franchise and he just gobbled it all up. It's great to see ... he's never played any better than he's playing right now."

With two players having won the Cup -- Fleury and Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik with the Penguins in 2009 -- it's a new experience for most players.

"Having the great privilege of having been through the grind and getting my name on a Stanley Cup, this is what you work for your whole life for these opportunities," said Olczyk, who won the Cup with the New York Rangers in 1994.

Olczyk gave credit to Vegas general manager George McPhee for putting together the team.

Video: Breaking down the storylines for the Cup Final

"He played poker and he dominated," Olczyk said. "There is no other way around saying that because look at where they are. ... You look at a lot of the moves, the side deals [teams made to protect players at the expansion draft]."

McPhee acquired forwards Reilly Smith (Florida Panthers) and Alex Tuch (Minnesota Wild), and defenseman Shea Theodore (Anaheim Ducks) in trades, which each team doing so in order to protect other players. Each had his NHL career-high in points.

McGuire said he was looking forward to a Cup Final with many intriguing headlines.

"This might be one of the better skill Finals and speed Finals we've seen in a long time and I just can't wait to get going," he said.

Milbury added, "It's going to be a very interesting series, and I think highly entertaining."

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