1. The George McPhee connection
Vegas Golden Knights GM George McPhee practically built both teams in the Stanley Cup Final. In addition to constructing the Golden Knights’ roster from scratch, McPhee drafted more than half of the Capitals’ current rotation— including their top four players in points and goalie Braden Holtby—during his 17-year tenure as the club’s general manager. The Capitals fired McPhee after the 2014 season, the only year they’ve missed the playoffs in the past decade.
2. “Ovi” reaches the Cup
Alexander Ovechkin overcame the biggest knock on his career when the Capitals defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. The three-time recipient of the Hart Memorial Trophy (the NHL’s version of the most valuable player award) has reached the Stanley Cup for the first time in his 13-year career. Detractors have dogged Ovechkin, who’s bound to go down as one of the best hockey players of all-time, for Washington’s lack of playoff success for years.
3. A history of letdowns
With Ovechkin at the forefront of the criticism, fans have called Washington the “Chokers” as much as the Capitals over the past decade. In nine previous postseason appearances, the Capitals were upset prematurely seven times and never advanced past the Eastern Conference semifinals. Their playoff struggles have actually stretched back much further: Washington is just 19-27 all-time in playoff series and 5-11 in Game 7s. The Capitals’ only previous Stanley Cup appearance came in 1998, when they were swept by the Detroit Red Wings.
4. A recurring nemesis
Other than Ovechkin, the player most associated with the Capitals’ disappointments is actually on the Golden Knights’ roster. Vegas goalie Marc-André Fleury has tortured Washington. Fleury’s former team, the Penguins, eliminated the Capitals after each of their three winningest seasons—2017, 2016 and 2009. Fleury was the centerpiece of the Penguins’ series wins in 2017 and 2009, with a handful of memorable saves. He has posted a 23-12 all-time record against the Capitals (thru Game 1).
5. Holtby’s hot streak
As the Golden Knights rode Fleury to the final, the Capitals got there largely on the back of veteran goalie Braden Holtby. The 28-year-old arrived in the Stanley Cup Final having not allowed a goal in the previous 159 minutes of play—playing against the NHL’s highest-scoring team in Tampa Bay. Vegas was able to end the streak 7:15 into Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final, when defenseman Colin Miller scored on a power play.