Capitals vs. Golden Knights: Three questions about the Stanley Cup Final

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Leading up to Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final (Monday, 8 p.m. ET, NBC), Pro Hockey Talk will be looking at every aspect of the matchup between the Washington Capitals and the Vegas Golden Knights. 

Can the Capitals figure out Marc-Andre Fleury? 

The Golden Knights netminder is sporting one of the best postseason save percentages of all-time among qualified goaltenders. His .947 has helped Vegas breeze through three rounds and continue their magical inaugural season. His low, medium and higher danger save percentages (per Corsica Hockey) are top two among goalies in these playoffs. Regression has to arrive at some point, right? 

Historically, Fleury’s numbers aren’t even close to what his put up this spring. But between the four fewer games Vegas has played than Washington and the extra rest built in between the Golden Knights’ series, he only needs to keep this up at for at most seven more games. 

We’ve all been waiting for Vegas to fall back to earth all season and it hasn’t happened. We’ve been waiting for Fleury to do the same in these playoffs. What’s another two weeks of playing out of this world? 

Will Vegas’ depth step up when needed?

Of their 30 goals by forwards over the course of 15 playoff games, only six have come their bottom six, with Cody Eakin accounting for three of them. Jonathan Marchessault and William Karlsson have led the way on the top line while Alex Tuch, James Neal and Erik Haula are right behind them on line No. 2.

[How Golden Knights were built | How Capitals were built]

Each series brings a new set of challenges and you Barry Trotz and his staff are looking for ways at slowing down that top line. If they cannot produce on a given night, someone else will need to contribute. Vegas’ top six has had their fingerprints all over their success this spring, and while their bottom six has had a knack of scoring some big, timely goals when they do, Washington could use this to their advantage. The Capitals have been aided by their depth throughout this entire run. Vegas hasn’t needed it. Only four more wins to go.

Who gets to lift the Stanley Cup second?

If the Capitals win, Alex Ovechkin will take the Cup from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. Should the Golden Knights be victorious, de-facto captain and Vegas resident Deryk Engelland will likely be the guy. But who will they pass it to after taking a twirl and giving the Cup a smooch?

Brooks Orpik is the “old guy” on the team and is also the only Capital with experience playing in the Final. He has a ring, so he’s out. The logical choice for Ovechkin is his running mate who’s been through all the ups and downs the franchise has experienced since the 2005-06 season: Nicklas Backstrom.

Like the Capitals, it’s a pretty easy choice for the Golden Knights. He owns three Cup rings already and he’s been a huge reason for their success this season, which is why Marc-Andre Fleury will get the Cup from his former Penguins teammate. Fleury had to watch the last two Penguins titles from the bench as Matt Murray led them to glory. Now he gets a shot at winning his third straight title and could be be the goaltender who gets mobbed after the final buzzer in the clinching game.

2018 STANLEY CUP FINAL PREVIEW
• Who has better forwards?
Who has better defense?
Who has better goaltending?
• Who has better special teams?

• Who has better coaching?

MORE:
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub
• Stanley Cup Final Schedule

 

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

Ilya Mikheyev
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.