Each Friday throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Kevin Weekes will bring you his Friday Four. He will be blogging about four players, teams, plays, or trends that have caught his eye.
Vegas Golden Knights
They have been the best story in sports; there is no other way around it.
It starts at the top, with general manager George McPhee and coach Gerard Gallant. McPhee did an excellent job constructing the roster and Gallant got everyone to buy in and play as a team. As a result, almost every player on the roster had his best season. Vegas steamrolled to the Pacific Division title and needed 15 games to advance to the Cup Final, a remarkable feat for any team, let alone an expansion team.
Have we ever seen a team that went five goalies deep and did this well? When No. 1 Marc-Andre Fleury was injured, the Golden Knights relied on Malcom Subban, Maxime Lagace, Oscar Dansk and even Dylan Ferguson and still had success. If the New England Patriots lost Tom Brady and had to play their third-string quarterback, or if the Cleveland Cavaliers lost LeBron James and had to play their third-string small forward, there's no way they would have sustained the success Vegas has.
As I've said before, people discrediting what the Golden Knights have accomplished don't really understand the fundamentals of hockey. You have to earn everything in this game and Vegas definitely has done that.
Video: #ThirstForTheCup: Vegas advances to Stanley Cup Final
After the moves they made, or didn't make this offseason, I didn't think they would be this position. They lost two defensemen in Karl Alzner (signed with the Montreal Canadiens as a free agent) and Nate Schmidt (selected by the Golden Knights in the 2017 NHL Expansion draft), plus they let rental Kevin Shattenkirk walk in free agency. The young blueliners in Christian Djoos, Taylor Chorney, Madison Bowey and Michal Kempny have paid dividends.
Goalie coaches Scott Murray and Mitch Korn have done a great job with Philipp Grubauer, and with Braden Holtby, to get his game back on track. It's hard to believe Holtby wasn't the starter for this team at the beginning of the playoffs with all the success he has had.
Center Evgeny Kuznetsov leads all playoff scorers with 24 points (11 goals, 13 assists). Forward Alex Ovechkin is right behind him with 22 points (12 goals, 10 assists). After years of frustration, everything is clicking for the Capitals this season.
It was a very disappointing ending to their season after the Jets finished second in the NHL in points (114) and had the most wins (52) and points in their history, only to be defeated by the Golden Knights in five games in the Western Conference Final. Winnipeg got past the Nashville Predators in the first round and dominated Game 1 against Vegas before losing four straight games, something they hadn't done all season.
However, the future is bright in Winnipeg. Forward Patrik Laine showed he'll be competing for the Art Ross Trophy for years to come. Center Mark Scheifele and forwards Blake Wheeler, Kyle Connor and Nikolaj Ehlers each had an impressive season, leading to the Jets ranking second in goals-per game during the regular season (3.33) behind the Tampa Bay Lightning (3.54).
Winnipeg also has a Vezina Trophy finalist in goaltender Connor Hellebuyck, and defenseman Dustin Byfuglien in front of him to not only help protect the crease but chip in offensively as well. The Jets have drafted well over the years, and it's finally starting to pay off.
Video: WPG@VGK, Gm4: Laine rips home power-play goal
As I previously said on NHL Network, if I were the Buffalo Sabres, I would not have traded forward Evander Kane. True, he was set to become an unrestricted free agent July 1 but had demonstrated chemistry with center Jack Eichel over the past three years. But Buffalo did trade him, and he was the San Jose Sharks' gain. Credit to Sharks coach Pete DeBoer, and defenseman Brent Burns and centers Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton, who wanted him there. Kane had 14 points (nine goals, five assists) in 17 games with San Jose on a line mostly with Pavelski and forward Joonas Donskoi.
To his credit, Kane has continued his maturation process.
He's only 26, though it seems he has been in the NHL forever. I thought that was a great job by the Sharks picking him up and signing him to a seven-year contract on Thursday.
Tampa Bay Lightning
The Lightning don't have any reason to hang their heads following their Game 7 loss to the Capitals in the Eastern Conference Final. They won the Atlantic Division and were the top team in the conference.
Center Brayden Point, 21, took huge steps forward this season. He had 66 points (32 goals, 34 assists), third on Tampa Bay during the regular season, and was second on the Lightning in playoff scoring with 16 points (seven goals, nine assists). Point became an all-star for the first time, and it likely won't be the last time. Defenseman Mikhail Sergachev and center Yanni Gourde each had a great rookie season, and goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy became a Vezina Trophy finalist.
With center Steven Stamkos and forward Nikita Kucherov, who each had an MVP-type season, there's no reason to think the Lightning can't compete for years to come, especially with most of their roster expected to return.
Stanley Cup Final Coverage
Golden Knights vs. Capitals
Stanley Cup Final Schedule