For the first time in their 44-year history, the Washington Capitals and their fans can call themselves Stanley Cup champions. The Caps defeated the Vegas Golden Knights 4-3 in game five tonight to finish off a great Stanley Cup Final. Washington won the series four games to one.
Washington had a tough battle to get to this point. They were down in the first round series to the Blue Jackets, finally slayed the dragon in defeating the Penguins in the second round and had to overcome the top team in the Eastern Conference in the regular season in the Conference Final.
When the series began with a Vegas win, it seemed to be business as usual in this playoff. The Golden Knights had steamrolled through the Kings, Sharks and Jets en route to the Final in their very first NHL season. It seemed nothing could stop the Knights on their way to the first Cup championship in their inaugural season.
But the Knights had not seen a goaltender the likes of Braden Holtby this playoff. He came up big when he needed to and was the difference for the Caps. Add to that the play of eventual Conn Smythe Trophy winner as playoff MVP, Alex Ovechkin (he led the playoffs in scoring) and the Capitals were on their way to four straight wins for the Cup. Ovechkin also became the first Russian-born captain to hoist the Cup in NHL history.
Colonia, New Jersey-native, defenseman John Carlson also played a big role in the win. As did former Devil Devante Smith-Pelly, who scored some clutch goals in the final round and tied up game five at three goals to get the Caps rolling to a Stanley Cup win. Congrats to them and to Ovechkin, who really changed his philosophy and became more of a team player under head coach Barry Trotz.
Congratulations to the 2018 Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals and their players, coaching staff and fans on this “monumental” achievement. Also, congrats to the Golden Knights for representing Las Vegas well and having a hell of a first year in Sin City. They have really built a fanbase there and hopefully many great things still lay in store for that franchise.
That concludes the 2017-18 NHL season, but we will have plenty of coverage throughout the summer regarding the NHL Awards, the Draft and free agency as it relates to the Devils for you, so keep an eye right here!
The 2018 Stanley Cup Final was set last night when the Washington Capitals bested the Tampa Bay Lightning in game seven of the Eastern Conference Final to advance to the final round for the first time since 1998.
They will meet the upstart Vegas Golden Knights, a team that has never lost a playoff series. The first-year Knights defeated the Winnipeg Jets in four games to one to advance out of the Western Conference.
The Capitals are kind of a weird team this year in that they are not as good as they have been in recent years when they have been picked by many experts to win it all. They lost pieces such as the Devils’ own Marcus Johansson and replaced them with players such as former Devil Devante Smith-Pelly. With all due respect to Smith-Pelly, he is not the same kind of player that Johansson is. Washington has arguably been weaker this year than in past years, but have been performing in the playoffs when, in years past, they did not.
But the irony is that the Caps have been playing their best this playoff. They came back from being two down to the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round to win four straight and the series. They finally got over the Pittsburgh hump by beating the Penguins in the second round. And, although they blew a two games to none lead (after winning both of the first games of the series on the road no less) in the conference final, they still managed to take game seven from the Lightning on Tampa’s home ice.
The Golden Knights have had an easier time of it. They plowed through the Los Angeles Kings and the San Jose Sharks in the first two rounds, two aging heavy teams that could not keep up with the youthful Knights’ speed. After dropping the first game of the West final in Winnipeg, they rebounded to take four straight from a very good Jets team.
The story of the playoffs for Vegas, though, has to be goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury has been lights out, putting the Knights on his shoulders and carrying them for most of the postseason. Vegas definitely has the edge between the pipes.
But the Caps have a motivated player of their own: captain Alex Ovechkin. He is very close to a Stanley Cup ring now and he is doing all that he can to shake the label of “choker.” The big Russian should give Fleury all that he can handle.
Then you have the factor of the crowds. Washington fans will be hungry for their first taste of the Stanley Cup Final since being swept by the Detroit Red Wings in 1998. This is also the first time in the Ovechkin era that the team has been this far in the playoffs. Add to that the team coming off of a huge game seven win in the Eastern final and the Capital One Arena crowd will be ready to make some noise.
Then there is Vegas. That building will be as noisy as it has been all season. This is uncharted territory, really. The last time an expansion team made the Stanley Cup FInal in its first season was 1968 when the St. Louis Blues did it. But there is a caveat there. The NHL put all of the six new expansion teams in a single division, so that an expansion team had to come out of that division to meet an Original Six team in the Final. The Blues were swept that year by the Montreal Canadiens. They were not on equal footing, that is for sure.
Prior to the Blues, you have to go back another 50 years, to the very founding year of the NHL, 1917-18, to find another first year team to challenge for the Cup. That year it was the Toronto Arenas, the team that would eventually become the Maple Leafs, that defeated Montreal.
The good thing for fans this time around, is that Vegas is not your average expansion team, as they have shown all season long. They were very shrewd in the Expansion Draft and during the season in making deals for players that could help them get to this point.
Yet another factor is time. The Final starts on Monday. Vegas will have had more than a week’s layoff while the Caps will have been idle for about three days. The series kicks off at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. How will the teams come out of their respective breaks? How much is too much of a layoff? How much rest is just right? Can the Knights last if Washington makes this a longer series, considering they have not played any really drawn out series yet?
The answers to these questions and more will begin to come to light on Monday evening when the Stanley Cup Final comes to the Silver State for the first time ever. Good luck to both teams!
The Devils made their very first trip to the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas a productive one. They defeated the Vegas Golden Knights 8-3, paying back a one-goal loss last week in New Jersey where the Devils were just not able to muster one last one past Marc-Andre Fleury.
This loss marked just the eighth regulation loss at home for the first-year Golden Knights, who have had a dream season for an expansion team. This also marked the worst home loss the Knights have had this year.
The big question coming into last night’s game was how the Devils’ three off days in Vegas would affect them. To a man, the players said that they were “on their best behavior” and, while they enjoyed their time in the city, knew they were on a “business trip.”
Some roster business to get to as Travis Zajac, who had injured his back against Winnipeg last week, made the trip west with the team and played tonight. With him in, Jesper Bratt was a healthy scratch up front. Kyle Palmieri slotted into the top line with Nico Hischier and Taylor Hall as a result. Pavel Zacha remains out with an upper body injury, as he could join the team later in the trip according to the team and Steve Cangialosi of MSG. Jimmy Hayes and Mirco Mueller were the other two out of the lineup.
Vegas was without James Neal and Reilly Smith, two big producers who would be missed for the Golden Knights.
Keith Kinkaid got the nod in goal for the Devils, as his performance in Nashville was too good and coach John Hynes wanted to continue with the hot hand. He made 39 stops on 42 shots against. The Golden Knights started Fleury again, who recently became the fastest goalie to 400 wins in his NHL career. He made seven saves on 11 shots, being chased after the fourth Devils goal in favor of Maxime Lagace. Lagace made 13 saves on 17 shots. The Devils finished the night with a total of 28 shots, being outshot in the victory.
There were a few hundred Devils fans who made the trip to Vegas to see their team take on the Pacific Division leaders, according to Deb Placey and Ken Daneyko of MSG. They were ready, so let’s get to it.
The Devils broke the seal on the game with a shorthanded goal. It was their ninth shorty of the year and, of course, involved Brian Gibbons and Blake Coleman. The Devils’ Damon Severson was serving a tripping penalty and, off of a faceoff in the Devils’ zone, which Vegas won, the puck bounced back to the point. Gibbons was right there, picking it up and skating it into the Knights’ zone. He stopped just inside the blue line and found Coleman driving to the net. Coleman chipped the puck over Fleury to give the Devils a 1-0 lead at the 6:23 mark.
The Devils would double their lead about a minute and a half later when Nico Hischier scored from Severson and Sami Vatanen. That one came when Nico moved in on a two-on-one with John Moore. Using Moore as a decoy, he threw the puck towards the Vegas net. Tomas Tatar inadvertently got his stick on it and tipped it by Fleury to make it 2-0. Finally, it seemed, the Devils were getting a little bit of puck luck. The Devils were up by two going into the first intermission. But would that be enough against a good team like Vegas?
They would not let it get that far. Just 1:55 into the first, Zajac put the Devils up 3-0 to start to create some separation between them and the Knights. Will Butcher had the secondary assist, but getting the primary was Michael Grabner. It was his seventh assist of the year, but his first point as a New Jersey Devil. The goal developed when Butcher skated crossed the blue line with the puck and dropped for Grabner, who was trailing just behind. Grabner tic-tac-toed to Zajac, who was entering the slot. He fired a wrister by Fleury to make it 3-0 just like that.
And it only took 36 seconds for the Devils to extend the lead to four. Stefan Noesen notched his eleventh from Andy Greene when Greene swept the puck from a Golden Knights player and connected with Noesen behind the Vegas defense. Noesen had a partial breakaway and beat Fleury five hole to put the Devils up 4-0 and knock Fleury out of the game.
This was the first time the Golden Knights had trailed by as many as four goals in their history at T-Mobile Arena.
But they would quickly have some pushback. Erik Haula scored on the power play at 11:08 from Colin Miller and Nate Schmidt to cut the Devils lead to 4-1. On the evening, the Devils would go 1-for-2 on the power play with two shots. They also had one shot shorthanded. Vegas was 2-for-5 with the man advantage, as they had their chances. They had 11 power play shots.
Miller would cut the Devils lead in half just before the second intermission when he scored unassisted at 18:55. Things were not looking good for the Devils heading into the third, as the Vegas crowd was loud and back into things.
But the Devils would silence them very fast. Blake Coleman scored unassisted just 2:04 into the third period. Coleman stole the puck from Deryk Engelland and skated into the Vegas zone. He shot and had it blocked in front by Jon Merrill. Coleman grabbed his own rebound and beat Legace to make it 5-2 Devils. This was Coleman’s first career two goal game.
At the 7:02 mark, Grabner would notch his 26th of the year, and first as a Devil, from Hischier and Gibbons to make it 6-2. Hischier came out of the far corner, skating to just inside the Vegas blue line. He fired on net, with the rebound coming back to him in the near corner. He was a ball of energy as he grabbed it and worked along the boards with Gibbons. They got it to the front of the net and Grabner took a pass from Nico, simply shoveling it into the empty side of the net.
But the Devils were not done yet. With Merrill off for tripping Grabner (who had his best game as a Devil so far), Kyle Palmieri got onto the scoresheet. On the power play, he scored from Patrick Maroon and Taylor Hall. The Devils won a faceoff in the Vegas zone, with the puck going back to Sami Vatanen. He walked the line and gave it to Hall at the near half wall. Hall found Maroon at the side of the Vegas net. He tried to jam it home and the rebound came to Palmieri at the other side of the net. He put it into the empty side of Legace’s net to make it 7-2 Devils.
With that seventh goal, the Devils had scored seven for the first time since the comeback in Chicago earlier this season on November 12. But they still were not done.
The final one to get in on the Devils’ goal scoring binge was Taylor Hall. He scored his 31st of the year from Brian Boyle at 14:31 of the third to make it 8-2. Hall skated in to the Golden Knights’ zone, shot and, with Boyle battling in front of the Knights’ net, took his own rebound and stuffed it home. The Devils had put up an eight-spot on the road for the first time since November 25, 2005 against the Lightning.
Vegas’ Haula scored from David Perron and Tatar with 28 seconds remaining in the game on the power play, but it was simply window dressing. The Devils had sealed their second straight victory to kick off a rough road stretch.
Stats-wise, Vatanen led in ice time with 24:05 (including 1:18 on the power play and 3:48 on the PK). Zajac led all Devils skaters with 18:06 (including 1:09 on the power play and 4:06 on the penalty kill). Shots were led by Hischier with four, hits by Boyle with seven, blocks by Moore with five. Takeaways were led by Boyle and Grabner who each had one. The Devils won 52-percent of the faceoffs in the game.
Blake Coleman took home first star honors while Keith Kinkaid was the second star and Taylor Hall the third.
Next up the Devils will head off to Los Angeles for a game with the Kings on Saturday, St. Patrick’s Day. That game is a 4 PM start time here in New Jersey. Hopefully the Devils can get the California leg of their road trip off on the right foot when they travel to Staples Center.
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March 4, 2018 marked the first ever game between the Vegas Golden Knights and the New Jersey Devils. The Golden Knights have been one of the surprises of the 2017-18 NHL season and tonight they continued their winning ways, defeating the Devils at Prudential Center 3-2.
Once again, Taylor Hall was the story for the Devils. He extended his personal point scoring streak to 18 straight games and 25 straight appearances with an assist on the Devils first goal and then scoring a goal of his own later in the game.
The Devils made some roster changes from the last few games with Drew Stafford slotting back in at forward and Jesper Bratt, who had been struggling of late, watching from the press box as a healthy scratch. Jimmy Hayes and Mirco Mueller also joined him. With that, the defense was the same as the last few games and, according to Chris Ryan of NJ.com and the Star-Ledger, coach John Hynes made the decision to sit Bratt in favor of Stafford at game time.
Cory Schnedier was back between the pipes, making 24 saves on 27 Vegas shots. For the Golden Knights, it was former Pittsburgh Penguin Marc-Andre Fleury – who made 33 saves on 35 shots faced.
All of the scoring happened in the second period leading up to a wild finish as the Devils dropped their third straight.
David Perron got the Golden Knights on the board first when he scored at 4:39 of the second from Tomas Hyka and former-Devil defenseman Jon Merrill. It was only Merrill’s third point of the season, so you know he was ready to go against his former team. Perron’s goal made it 1-0 Vegas.
The Devils would only need four minutes and five seconds and a power play to tie things up. At the 7:31 mark, Jonathan Marchessault was called for interference and the Devils were on the man advantage. It was here where Sami Vatanen stepped up. He scored at 8:44 from Hall and Patrick Maroon. The goal began with Maroon and Travis Zajac with some terrific board work in the far corner. Maroon won the puck battle and passed to Hall waiting at the far faceoff dot. He slid it over to Vatanen at the top of the near circle who unleashed a one-timer to beat Fleury. That tied things up at one and extended Hall’s point scoring streak.
It would remain that way until Vegas retook the lead at 11:17 of the second off of a goal from Deryk Engelland. He got assists from Shea Theodore and Ryan Reaves. That made it 2-1.
The Golden Knights would extend their lead to 3-1 at 17:43 of the second when newly-acquired Tomas Tatar scored from Perron and Brad Hunt. That goal came on a power play set up when New Jersey was called for a too many men on the ice bench minor at 17:33. Overall, on the night the Devils were 1-for-3 on the power play with four shots. The Golden Knights were 1-for-2 with five shots, as they really clicked at a good pace.
But the Devils were not out of things as long as Taylor Hall was around. He would score his 30th goal of the year, unassisted at 17:55 of the second to make it 3-2. That one came when Hall grabbed the puck from a Vegas player trying to clear it behind his own net. Hall, relentless on the forecheck, came away with it and stuffed a wraparound through Fleury’s five hole to cut the Golden Knights’ lead to one.
With a packed Prudential Center crowd chanting “M-V-P,” Hall had gotten the Devils within striking distance.
But the closest they would come came extemely late in the game. Like three seconds remaining late. With the Devils pressing and trying to frantically get things tied up with Cory Schneider pulled and a 6-on-5 advantage, Vegas’ Brayden McNabb was called for delay of game for clearing the puck over the glass at the 19:56 mark of the third period. The Devils, with Cory still pulled, would have a 6-on-4 advantage for just over three seconds. All they had to do to make it possible was win the draw, which they did, but they were unable to find the back of the net. That resulted in a 3-2 Golden Knights win.
The Devils had won 46-percent of the game’s faceoffs and, stats-wise, Vatanen led the team in ice time with 23:51. Hall led all Devils forwards with 20:05. Vatanen played 2:17 on the power play and 34 seconds on the penalty kill. Hall led all shooters on both teams with seven shots, Blake Coleman led in hits with five, Zajac led in blocks with two and Stefan Noesen led in takeaways with two.
The Devils will get another crack at the Golden Knights in Las Vegas next week when they go on their western road swing. But next up, they welcome the struggling Montreal Canadiens to The Rock on Tuesday. Maybe this is what they need, a weaker opponent to get back in the winning column. They have been and will be playing a lot of teams in playoff contention over the next month, including the two meetings with Vegas. We will see you on Tuesday.
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Note: the photo of Taylor Hall at the top of this post is copyright Getty Images.
The NHL is currently holding the expansion draft in conjunction with their annual awards show at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. The Vegas Golden Knights are to choose one player from each of the established NHL franchises.
It did not take long for the team to make their selection from the New Jersey Devils. Defenseman Jon Merrill was chosen in the first wave of selections by Vegas and will be taking his talents to Sin City next fall.
The Oklahoma City, Oklahoma-born player who grew up in Michigan was chosen by the Devils 38th overall in the 2nd round ofthe 2010 NHL Entry Draft from the University of Michigan.
In parts of four seasons with the Devils, totalling 216 games, Merrill has six goals and 20 assists for 36 points. He is a career minus-41 plus/minus and averages about 18:58 of ice time (all stats from Hockey-Reference.com).
The 25-year-old, 6-foot, 3-inch, 205-pound blueliner is the third d-man taken in the first wave by the Golden Knights, along with Luca Sbisa of Vancouver and Brayden McNabb of Los Angeles.
Dan Rosen of NHL.com offered his analysis of Merrill on the NHL’s official website, saying that while he and Sbisa are big and can “block shots and play sound defensively,” both are “inconsistent.” He does not see Merrill “as a top-pair or even middle-pair” defenseman. He does concede that Vegas might have to use him as such, however.
He also proposes that Sbisa and Merrill, who he clearly feels are the weakest players taken by the Golden Knights so far, “are both signed for one more season, so they could be trade bait for Vegas around the 2018 NHL Trade Deadline.” Rosen goes on to say that “that might be their best value, in fact.” Ouch.
For the Devils, Merrill was probably one of the better players avaiable so it is pretty obvious why Vegas would take him. Losing someone like Beau Bennett would have been a little bit more of a hit, so the Devils will recover.
In other Devils news, the team announced their 2017-18 home opener will occur on Saturday, October 7, 2017 against the Colorado Avalanche at 7 PM. The rest of their schedule will be unveiled along with the other 30 team schedules on Thursday at 3 PM on the NHL Network.
The Devils today, along with the other 30 established NHL teams, made their list of protected players available for the upcoming expansion draft, where the Vegas Golden Knights will take one player from each team in trying to build up their roster.
The Devils protected forwards Taylor Hall, Adam Henrique, Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac. They protected defensemen Andy Greene, John Moore, Mirco Mueller and Damon Severson as well as goaltender Cory Schneider.
Vegas must choose one player from the Devils and those players available to them are: forwards Beau Bennett, Michael Cammalleri, Carter Camper, Luke Gazdic, Shane Harper, Jacob Josefson, Ivan Khomutov, Stefan Noesen, Marc Savard, Devante Smith-Pelly, Petr Straka, Mattias Tedenby, Ben Thomson and David Wohlberg. Devils defensemen available to the Golden Knights are: Seth Helgeson, Viktor Loov, Ben Lovejoy, Andrew MacWilliam, Jon Merrill, Dalton Prout, Karl Stollery and Alexander Urbom. Goalies left unprotected are Keith Kinkaid and Scott Wedgewood.
According to NHL.com, Vegas must choose 30 players (one from each team) and they must consist of a minimum of 14 forwards, nine d-men and three goalies. NHL.com says that they have until 10 AM on Wednesday (June 21) to submit their selections.
The criteria for who the Devils kept protected was that they could either keep seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie or eight total skaters and one goalie. The Devils obviously went with protecting eight skaters and a goalie. According to NHL.com, “all players with continuing and effective no-movement clauses had to be protected. All first- and second-year professionals are exempt from selection, as are unsigned draft choices.” (This would exempt players like Pavel Zacha and Mikey McLeod – making that decision easier for the Devils to deal with.)
The expansion draft takes place in conjunction with the NHL Awards on June 21 from the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. It airs on NBCSN at 8 PM.
Obviously, the team will take less of a hit in terms of losing players than in other expansion years when multiple teams joined the league. With only Vegas coming in, the team will only be losing one player for nothing in the expansion draft.