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Stanley Cup odds (As of May 24):
Golden Knights: 1.72
If the NHL was searching for a new playoff slogan, perhaps 'Anything is Possible' would be most appropriate after what has transpired in 2018.
The Vegas Golden Knights, in their first year playing in the NHL and with a roster that on a grand scale was not expected to make the playoffs, have stunned the sports world by making it to the Stanley Cup Final.
In June of 2017, when the outright market opened, their odds to win the Stanley Cup were 100.00 at PlayNow.com. They were long shots a year ago. As of Thursday, they were favourites against the Washington Capitals, champs of the Eastern Conference, to win the Stanley Cup at odds of 1.72.
The Capitals' odds stood at 2.10 to win outright as of Thursday.
NHL Betting Breakdown:
Vegas paid an expansion fee of $500 million, and yes the 2017 expansion draft was far more favourable to the league's newest team than previous expansion clubs. If you follow the conversation on social media, the fact the Golden Knights have made it this far is seen by some as an embarrassment for the league.
(Perhaps that should be directed at other general managers in the NHL. The Panthers decided to leave Jonathan Marchessault unprotected in the expansion draft. They also traded Reilly Smith to Vegas in exchange for a draft pick. Both players have been central to the Golden Knights' success during the season and playoff run. And that's one example.)
There has been a healthy discussion about whether hockey fans of Vegas deserve this because there are other long-suffering fan bases - like those fans in Washington - that haven't had a sniff at a championship in a long, long time.
Here's the thing: No team or fan base, regardless of tenure or hardship, is entitled to a championship. Only one team out of 31 (which could soon be 32 with the addition of a Seattle franchise) can actually win it in a given year. A lot of hard-luck franchises are going to be disappointed, year after year, despite efforts to build a championship team.
No one envisioned the Golden Knights getting this far.
No one envisioned William Karlsson erupting for 43 goals in a single season (with a 23.4 shooting percentage). He had never hit double digits in goals in one season before 2017-18. Did anyone think Marc-Andre Fleury - moved out of Pittsburgh last year after Matt Murray took over the starting role - would be this lights-out? He's 12-3 in the playoffs, with a ridiculous .947 save percentage and four shutouts, which matches his regular season total.
No one envisioned this level of success.
When the season began, the Golden Knights' odds were 90.00. By the end of October, those numbers shifted to 45.00. By early February, they were among the Stanley Cup favourites.
They were once underdogs. Long shots. And in the span of several months, they were no longer an expansion team building for the future, but an expansion team that looked like a legitimate Cup contender - and the reality has continued to set in ever since.
It's likely not many envisioned the Capitals getting this far, either.
Not once in the Alex Ovechkin era had the Capitals been beyond the second round. That's certainly not on one player, though Ovechkin, one of the best goal scorers the NHL will know, has taken the brunt of criticism for previous playoff eliminations.
Throw that out the window.
Ovechkin has 12 goals in 19 games so far in these playoffs. He has 22 points. And he's been dominant for the Capitals. Their goalie Braden Holtby posted back-to-back shutouts in Games 6 and 7 to help his team dispatch the Bolts.
A year ago, the Capitals were the Presidents' Trophy winners, with the look of a team destined to finally win the Stanley Cup. Then they ran into the Penguins in the second round and the rest is history. It was a monumental disappointment and Washington's roster saw numerous changes in the offseason.
With the Maple Leafs, Bruins and Lightning having terrific seasons in the Atlantic Division, it may have been easier to dismiss the Capitals as a possible dark horse Cup contender given their past losses and the corresponding summer shake-up. Oh, and they had to inevitably face Pittsburgh in the second round - again.
Even with all the changes, the 2017-18 Capitals overcame a 2-0 series deficit to Columbus in the first round, finally overcame their demons in the second round against the Penguins, and then staved off elimination in the conference championship against Tampa Bay, dominating the league's top scoring team in Games 6 and 7 to advance to the final.
They'll assume the underdog role in the final.
It's a series that will pit a fan base that had become used to high expectations and heartbreak against the league's newest fan base that cheers for a team no one was giving much of a chance to do anything special this season.
But as the Capitals and Golden Knights have shown us over the last few weeks and months, it's that, in 2018 at least, anything seems possible.