Special Friday Blog Dump: Ovechkin is a champion at last

Put this right up there with the Rangers winning in 1994. Ray Bourque winning in 2001. Dave Andreychuk winning in 2004.

Alex Ovechkin breaking through and winning the Stanley Cup at last is one of the greatest moments in recent Stanley Cup history.

Ovechkin finally gets it after 607 goals, 1,122 points, and over 1,000 games. A career that were it to end sans a Stanley Cup still would’ve been one of the great NHL careers. Then there’s his sidekick Nicklas Backstrom, who will go down as one of the great players of his generation. Backstrom gets his name on the most famous trophy in sports after a 815-game slate that has 590 assists and 799 points to show for it.

This image says it all.

The joy and enthusiasm Ovechkin showed on the ice after the win made the moment even better. You could see the years and years of frustration all coming out at once.

Then there’s Barry Trotz. Nineteen years of being a NHL head coach between the Predators and Capitals. A guy who prior to this season was just never able to get over that hump between Nashville and Washington. Always running into Detroit, or Pittsburgh, or San Jose, or whoever else. Coaching on an expiring contract, Trotz was finally able to break through this year.

That was the theme of this Capitals team. A group of guys that for years were running into everything but a title run. This year none of them were going to be denied.

Washington was the type of team you see every handful of years. Came into the playoffs under the radar, playing well but not among the favorites. And most importably, had a resolve that was unmatched by anyone else.

That’s exactly how they won Game 5 to clinch the Stanley Cup. It was a crazy, back-and-forth game for the final 40 minutes. They went into the third period trailing 3-2, then stormed back for two goals in the final 20 minutes to win in regulation.

It was the type of game you only win if you have the toughness and resiliency the Caps had. And that’s why they’re champions.

The Moment

Nothing tops this. Obviously what T.J. Oshie, his father who has Alzheimer’s, and his family is going through, you never wish that on anybody. But you could tell how special a moment that was for Oshie, winning that Cup with his father watching. That’s what it’s all about.

And count Oshie in as another guy on this roster that finally shook the ‘couldn’t get over the hump’ label. He was on some really good Blues teams before being traded to the Capitals in 2015. And he’s been one of the key pieces of the puzzle to Washington’s success ever since.

Goal of Game 5

Three goals in the final three games and Devante Smith-Pelly made them all count. But this one was the nicest. Gets inside, then scores as he’s leaving his feet.

Smith-Pelly’s seven postseason goals matched his total from the regular season. The Capitals won six of their final seven games en route to winning the Stanley Cup, and he was one Washington’s best players over that stretch.

Other guys who could’ve won the Conn Smythe

  • Evgeny Kuznetsov: Finished the playoffs with 32 points. Only one other player since 1997 had reached that point total in a postseason, when Evgeni Malkin recorded 36 points in 2009.
  • Braden Holtby: 16-7, 2.16 GAA, .922 save percentage. Holtby has been sensational in the playoffs, and he was rewarded for it this year.
  • T.J. Oshie: Oshie was the catalyst of the second line with Nicklas Backstrom and Jakub Vrana (and Lars Eller at times). That line was the Capitals best at many points of the playoffs.
  • John Carlson: Carlson was just the fourth defenseman to record 20 points in a postseason since Brian Leetch hung 34 in the 1994 playoffs. The other three? Chris Pronger in 2006, Duncan Keith in 2015, and Brent Burns in 2016. Have you heard he’ll be an unrestricted free agent?

Other thoughts

*Five players with 20-plus points for the Capitals this postseason. First team to do so since the 1991 North Stars.

*Two more reached 15: Lars Eller (18) and Tom Wilson (15).

*12 players on this Capitals roster were first round picks, including Washington’s entire entire top-nine forwards.

  • Nicklas Backstrom (4th overall in 2006)
  • Andre Burakovsky (23rd overall in 2013)
  • Brett Connolly (6th overall in 2010)
  • Lars Eller (13th overall in 2007)
  • Evgeny Kuznetsov (26th overall in 2010)
  • T.J. Oshie (24th overall in 2005)
  • Alex Ovechkin (1st overall in 2004)
  • Jakub Vrana (13th overall in 2014)
  • Tom Wilson (16th overall in 2012)

*Cup-less club is now down to 11: Jets, Canucks, Blues, Sharks, Senators, Predators, Wild, Panthers, Blue Jackets, Sabres, Coyotes.

*Next to win their first Stanley Cup? Going with the Blues.

*Marc-Andre Fleury finished the series with a .853 save percentage.

*Excited to see what this Vegas team looks like come October. They have a lot of cap space, a lot of assets. They can make some noise and be right back in the mix next season.

*The early favorites for next year’s Stanley Cup Final: Tampa Bay out of East, Nashville out of the West.

Taking you out of the blog and into the weekend: 17 years ago on Saturday – Ray Bourque wins his first Stanley Cup.

Ryan Reaves should win the Conn Smythe

Fourth liners win championships.

Forget superstars. Forget goaltending. Forget skill players, depth down the middle, No. 1 defensemen. Am I right?

You need guys like Ryan Reaves. Or Tomas Nosek. Guys like Shawn Thornton, Dan Hinote. Don’t trust people that tell you otherwise.

Once again it was the fourth liners stepping up on Monday night, providing the offense for the Golden Knights in the third period and lifting Vegas to a 6-4 win over the Caps in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.

Reaves got it going 2:41 into the third period – after Tom Wilson scored 1:10 in to give the Caps a 4-3 lead – an absolute snipe (with a side of a crosscheck, but ignore that) on a goal created by Nosek winning the puck battle with Michal Kempny and shoveling the puck out to Reaves in front.

Then in the middle of the period, Nosek wandered away from John Carlson and waited on the back door to one-time a beauty of a pass from Shea Theodore.

Nosek added an empty netter in the final seconds to pad his stats.

In all seriousness, I love this Golden Knights fourth line of Reaves, Nosek, and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. Old-fashioned, blue-collar line. They’re big, they’re physical, they like to get their hands dirty.

And Reaves has been great ever since being inserted into the lineup against the Sharks in the Second Round. He hits everything in sight, he’s making impactful plays on the ice. Now he has goals in back-to-back games. If it was easy, everybody would do it.

Tom Wilson is in trouble again

The Tom Wilson hit on Jonathan Marchessault was needless, illegal, predatory, you know all buzzwords.

It was late, Marchessault was unsuspecting, and Wilson came from a long way away. But suspendible? Please. It should’ve been a penalty, but the head wasn’t targeted and Marchessault returned to the game after going off briefly. Yes, Wilson has a history and isn’t deserving of the benefit of the doubt.  But not everything needs to be a suspension.

And while we’re on it, stop with the ‘Tom Wilson doesn’t belong in the NHL’ nonsense. He’s a huge part of that top line for the Capitals, and is a really good hockey player that plays a hard, punishing game. Try to keep up here.

Play of the night

This assist by T.J. Oshie. Looked like he was going to shoot but pulled it back to John Carlson who had a wide-open net after Marc-Andre Fleury bit on Oshie.

Another great game for Oshie, who has been one of the Capitals best players in these playoffs after a tough regular season. With two assists on Monday, Oshie now has 17 points in 20 games this postseason.

Other thoughts

*If Monday night showed us anything, it was that this is going to be a long, hard-fought, back-and-forth series. Which is why Vegas will probably win this series in 5.

*Colin Miller in these playoffs: 3 goals, all on the powerplay.

*Fans were treated to a Bruins alumni game in the first half of the game, with Miller, Brett Connolly, and Reilly Smith factoring in four of the game’s first five goals. Miller and Connolly opened the scoring for their respective teams while Smith assisted on William Karlsson’s goal with 1:41 left in the first period – Smith took the shot that banked off the back wall and onto the stick of Karlsson leading to the goal – and added another 3:21 into the second period.

*Not the best outing for Marc-Andre Fleury, allowing four goals on 28 shots despite the win. With that said, it was Fleury coming up big when it counted, as has been the case for much of these playoffs, making nine saves in the third period. He didn’t allow a goal after Tom Wilson’s tally 1:10 into the third period. It’s all about when you make the saves this time of year.

*Hard hat: Deryk Engelland – two assists, plus-two rating, five shots in 20:50 of time-on-ice, logging a game-high 1:40 of shorthanded time.

*One more note on the Vegas fourth line: They finished a plus-eight to go along with their combined three goals, seven shots on net, and six hits.

*One last thought: The pre-game ceremony didn’t disappoint. Electric. I love what the Golden Knights have brought into the NHL, and loved the experience the Predators provided last year. A majority of fans do too. Those that don’t are just a loud, obnoxious minority. Don’t give those people the attention.

Stanley Cup Final: The Storylines

We all predicted this back in October, right?

A Capitals team that had to make up for the losses of Marcus Johansson, Justin Williams, Daniel Winnik, Kevin Shattenkirk, Karl Alzner, and Nate Schmidt (to Vegas no less) and while the top of its roster was back and they would make the playoffs, it looked like there would be a rebuild there to some extent.

Meanwhile Vegas was just building. Yes, there were pieces. Marc-Andre Fleury was as good a starting block as you can find in net. James Neal was an established NHL veteran. Reilly Smith and Erik Haula had proven in recent years they could be impact players on competitive teams. Jonathan Marchessault was coming off a 30-goal season. Alex Tuch, Nate Schmidt, and Shea Theodore were talented youngsters with bright NHL futures.

Needless to say we didn’t see this back when the season started. Neither team was given much of a chance when the playoffs started back in April.

As I said in my playoff preview when building the case for the Golden Knights to get past the Kings, “We know nothing.”

It’s a theme that I’m sure won’t go away as these crazy, wild, unpredictable playoffs concludes with what should be fun Stanley Cup Final. Here’s some of the big storylines going in.

  1. New Blood – You’ll never see me complain about having to watch Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Patrick Kane, Anze Kopitar, or Drew Doughty in the Stanley Cup Final. With that said, a reprieve from the Penguins, Blackhawks, and Kings and getting new teams in the mix is refreshing. Neither team has won a Stanley Cup, the sixth time two teams that haven’t won one faced each other in the Cup Final, and first since 2007 when the Ducks played the Senators. Among that new blood is Alex Ovechkin, a player who – in case you hadn’t heard – has done a thing or two in this league.
  2. New Blood, like that team that didn’t exist until this year – Has it sunk in for anyone that this team made the Stanley Cup Final? I think this team was underestimated because simply nobody believed this could happen, but the Golden Knights are a legitimately good team that gelled from day one and has the luxury of playing in front of a great goaltender. But again, a roster that at this time last year hadn’t been assembled, a team that this time last year was still assembling the pieces to get the franchise off the ground. It’s the greatest sports story in years and best in hockey since the 1980 Miracle on Ice.
  3. Alex Ovechkin tries to get his Cup – So if you haven’t in fact heard about what Ovechkin has done since entering the NHL in 2005, here’s a quick rundown. 1,122 points, 607 goals, the greatest goal scorer of this generation and could be the greatest goal scorer ever. The one thing he hasn’t done is reached the Stanley Cup Final. After years of playoff disappointments in Washington that always seemed to fall upon the shoulders of Ovechkin, the Caps managed to get past the Second Round this season. The Capitals winning means not only erasing years and years of almost-getting-there, but the Great Eight cementing his legacy as one of the game’s all-time greats.
  4. One last demon to exorcise for the Capitals – It’s been a postseason of exorcising demons for the Caps, the most notable of which was finally getting past the Penguins (the Capitals were previously 0-for-3 during the Crosby/Ovechkin era). With that victory came the daily double of getting past the Second Round, something Washington hadn’t done since 1998, despite reaching that round six times over that span. They came back from series deficits as opposed to blowing series leads. The Caps took a page out of the George Costanza playbook and just did the exact opposite of everything they’d done years prior. They went for the chicken salad on rye instead of the tuna on toast and ended up in the Cup Final.
  5. Marc-Andre Fleury – Fleury is in the Stanley Cup Final for the fifth time in his career, but comes in having not played in a Stanley Cup Final game since 2009, as he backed up Matt Murray the past two Finals with the Penguins. This postseason, in which Fleury has put up near-historic numbers, has been the highlight of what has been a redemption tour for the 33-year-old after he was cast off by the Penguins in favor of Murray and taken by Vegas in the Expansion Draft. A Vegas win would virtually guarantee that Fleury wins the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
  6. Home-ice advantage vs Road Warriors – The road team has won 42 of the 79 games so far in these Stanley Cup Playoffs, and the Capitals are the face of that trend with a 8-2 road record this postseason. Meanwhile, the Golden Knights are the one team that has bucked the trend, with a 6-1 record on home ice.
  7. George McPhee – The Golden Knights GM as the architect of what has been the most successful inaugural season in the history of sports. He was also the architect of this Capitals team. Serving as the general manager in Washington from 1997-2014, it was McPhee who drafted Alex Ovechkin 1st overall in 2004, Nicklas Backstrom 4th overall in 2006, John Carlson 27th overall in 2008, Evgeny Kuznetsov 26th overall in 2010, and Tom Wilson 16th overall in 2012. Braden Holtby was taken in the 4th round of the 2008 draft. Other players drafted under McPhee’s watch includes Andre Burakovsky, Dmitry Orlov, and Chandler Stephenson. Jay Beagle was signed as an undrafted free agent in March 2008. McPhee also drafted current Golden Knight Cody Eakin in the 3rd round in 2009 and signed Vegas blueline ace Nate Schmidt as an undrafted free agent in April 2013.
  8. Nate Schmidt – The former Capital is the Golden Knights top defensemen has been one of the best blueliners in these playoffs. He plays in all situations and faces the best opposing teams have to offer. It will be his job to shut down the top line of Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Tom Wilson.

Stanley Cup Final: Why the Golden Knights win

The biggest reason Vegas wins the Stanley Cup? Look no further than the crease.

Marc-Andre Fleury has been unconscious this postseason. He enters his fifth career Stanley Cup Final appearance with a 12-3 record, a 1.68 GAA, .947 save percentage, and four shutouts in these playoffs. And it’s not just what Fleury has done but how and when he has done it. Here’s a breakdown of his numbers:

  • In three series openers: 2-1, 4 goals allowed on 89 shots (.955 save percentage), 2 shutouts
  • With a chance to take a series lead: 5-1, .939 save percentage, 1.97 GAA, 2 shutouts
  • With a chance to close out a series: 3-0, 1 goal allowed on 91 shots (.989 save percentage), 2 shutouts
  • Following losses: 3-0, 7 goals allowed on 103 shots (.932 save percentage)
  • At home: 6-1, .950 save percentage, 1.50 GAA, 2 shutouts
  • Fleury has stopped 32 of 33 shots faced in the three overtimes the Golden Knights have gone to, two of which they’ve won.

Fleury is the backbone every championship team needs. His performance is reminiscent of recent championship performances from Tim Thomas in 2011 for the Bruins, or Jonathan Quick for the Kings in 2012 and 2014.

But the biggest thing Vegas does? They adjust really well. In the Western Conference Final, they saw a big, fast Winnipeg team that played a heavy, skilled game. The Golden Knights looked overmatched in Game 1. Then they came back to win four straight.  They do a great job handling whatever is thrown at them.

The Golden Knights are a tough opponent to play anywhere, but they’re especially tough to play at home. Vegas feeds off that crowd and that rink is built in a way that makes it a good home ice advantage. It’s proven in their record, as the Golden Knights have won six of seven home contests in these playoffs after going 29-10-2 during the regular season.

Up front, the Golden Knights forwards really drive the bus. There’s really good balance across lines one through four and they run a really heavy, relentless forecheck that teams have had trouble with all season. The top line of Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson, and Reilly Smith have been the best forward line in these playoffs, combining for 47 points (16-31) through the first three rounds. But again, you’ve got nine other forwards to worry about once you get past that trio. Good luck with that.

And finally, saving the most obvious and least analytical for last – this team has that ‘team of destiny’ feel to it. We’re just realizing it now, but we’ve spent the past year slowly watching a Hollywood script unfold before our eyes. First they were going to be terrible, then they weren’t going to sustain their fast start, then they weren’t going to beat the Kings in the First Round, then the Sharks in the Second Round, and no way were they going to beat the Jets in the West Final. The movie simply can’t end with a loss in the Stanley Cup Final. Anybody who knows anything understands that’s not how it works.

Player the puts the Golden Knights over the top: Nate Schmidt – The 26-year-old played 200 games with the Capitals from 2013-17 and was hidden in a blueline corps that included John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik, Dmitry Orlov, and Kevin Shattenkirk. He was lost to the Golden Knights and has stepped into a No. 1 defenseman role. In these playoffs, he’s a plus-seven in an average time on ice of 24:53, taking on opposing top lines at five-on-five while getting a lot of time on the special teams units.

This graphic shows how great Braden Holtby has been

You can’t win without goaltending. This Stanley Cup Final matchup is as good an instance of that.

Marc-Andre Fleury and Braden Holtby have been relentless this postseason. Fleury will win the Conn Smythe Trophy barring a meltdown of epic proportions in the Cup Final. Holtby, after struggling through the regular season, has found his game in the playoffs and recorded back-to-back shutouts to put the Capitals in the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1998.

Plenty has been made about how good Fleury has been, and for good reason. But Holtby has been amazing in his own right. And not just in this postseason.

As the graphic points out, Holtby has a career 2.01 GAA in the postseason, a 77-game body of work that spans back to 2012. What it doesn’t tell you is that his career save percentage is .930, which is the highest of any goalie with 75 or more career playoff games, while his GAA is second among netminders that qualify to only Hockey Hall of Famer Turk Broda, who had a 1.98 GAA in 101 career playoff games. Only Henrik Lundqvist, Corey Crawford, and Jonathan Quick have won more games that Holtby’s 41 since 2012, while only Fleury, Quick, and Lundqvist have more shutouts that Holtby’s six over that span.

This postseason has been no different. In 18 games, Holtby has a 12-6 record with a 2.04 GAA and .924 save percentage. He has a postseason-high 1,088 minutes played despite not playing until Game 2 of the First Round against the Blue Jackets, after Philipp Grubauer got the starting nod in net to start the playoffs.

Holtby has been in net for all 12 of Washington’s wins. Of course, no goaltender in franchise history has ever won 16.

The Golden Knights are the best story in sports

If Vegas has taught us anything, it’s that we know nothing. Well, that was already kind of understood, but still.

I know it’s a dead horse that’s been beaten for months, but how amazing of a story is this?

This time last year Marc-Andre Fleury was a Penguin. William Karlsson a Blue Jacket. James Neal a Predator. Nate Schmidt a Capital. Gerard Gallant had just been hired as head coach. The organization was all but a steel frame sitting on a foundation, being pieced together in anticipation of the Fall 2017 debut.

Nobody gave this team a chance. This team was predicted to be in the running for the No. 1 overall pick and Swedish phenom Rasmus Dahlin. Few thought they’d be very good. Many thought they’d be pretty bad. The odds of winning the Stanley Cup was as high as 500/1 in some places.

Here’s what your’s truly had to say about this team going into the season, in which I had them finishing 7th in the Pacific ahead of only the Canucks: This certainly isn’t the worst expansion team ever but the Golden Knights are still far from being a good hockey team. You could do much worse than Marc-Andre Fleury in net but there’s nothing down the middle and their best defensemen are nothing more than top-fours on good teams at best.

And here they are, a year into their existence, in the Stanley Cup Final. A stage none of the three franchises founded during the latest round of NHL expansion in the late 1990s in the Minnesota Wild, Columbus Blue Jackets, and Winnipeg Jets (who were founded as the Atlanta Thrashers) have yet to realize. A destination not yet reached in the odyssey that has spanned nearly four decades and two cities for the Arizona Coyotes, which began NHL play in 1979 as the first iteration of the Winnipeg Jets.

With four more wins, the Golden Knights will graduate from a club of teams that have never won a Stanley Cup that includes 12 other franchises.

The story itself is amazing. A group of players cast off by their previous franchises in one form or another, whether it was via being left unprotected in the expansion draft or via brokered deals with the purpose of keeping Vegas from selecting other players on the roster. Not wanted by the previous team? That might be a bit harsh. But they clearly weren’t valued as greatly as others.

The mass shooting that occurred in Vegas last October in which 58 people were killed and the way in which the team responded to it – on and off the ice – brings the story to another level.

When you put the story in context, it goes to another level up. Of the other two teams to reach the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season, the 1918 Toronto Arenas and 1968 St. Louis Blues, neither did so the way Vegas did. The Arenas did so in the first NHL postseason, the Blues did it by running through an all-expansion division. The Golden Knights have had to win three playoff rounds against established franchises. One that had won two Stanley Cups in the past six years in the Kings, another that went to the Cup Final two years ago in the Sharks, and another that had just knocked off the defending Western Conference champion in the prior round in the Jets.

How it happened isn’t too complicated. Marc-Andre Fleury has been the best player on the planet in these playoffs and win or lose should win the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP. The top forward line of Jonathan Marchessault-William Karlsson-Reilly Smith has been as good as any in these playoffs. Nate Schmidt has emerged as a legit No. 1 defenseman. Depth players up-and-down the roster have contributed in big ways.

I said it coming off their Second Round defeat of the Sharks and I stand by it – Vegas is for real and nothing they do from here should surprise anyone.

There are still plenty of questions with this team going forward. As we’ve seen with numerous teams that have made deep playoff runs in recent years, long-term contention isn’t as easy as it looks. What they do have is a world of cap space, lots of draft picks, and plenty of assets if they want to make a big trade, like they nearly did with Erik Karlsson at the trade deadline.

The Golden Knights will play either the Lightning or Capitals in the Stanley Cup Final. Vegas will give them everything they can handle. And regardless of what happens, this is a story that will never die.


Marc-Andre Fleury’s latest run is a better story when you consider what came before it

The Vegas Golden Knights are two wins away from the Stanley Cup Final. That’s a spot you don’t get to without goaltending. Vegas’ story is no different.

Marc-Andre Fleury has been sensational this postseason. Sensational as in Tim Thomas circa 2011, Jonathan Quick circa 2012 and ’14, J.S. Giguere circa 2003.

Fleury ran his postseason record to 10-3 in Wednesday’s win with a 33-save performance that isn’t done justice by the scoresheet. The 33-year-old was peppered in the final 40 minutes of the game, facing 32 shots and stopping 30. His only blemishes were tallies by the white-hot Mark Scheifele.

He stopped the final 15 shots Winnipeg threw his way after Scheifele scored his second goal of the game 18 seconds into the third period. Fleury’s series of saves in the third denying the Jets star center of the hat trick – the rare instance this postseason of a puck touching Scheifele’s stick that didn’t end up in the back of the net – will go down as the signature play of Fleury’s amazing run.

Fleury’s numbers now stand at 10-3 with a 1.70 GAA, .945 save percentage, and 4 shutouts. Here’s where he stands with the other netminders still standing in these playoffs:

Screen Shot 2018-05-17 at 10.47.44 AM

What makes this run even more special is what came before it. Fleury arrived in Vegas via the expansion draft after he was squeezed out in Pittsburgh in favor of Matt Murray, who had led the Penguins to back-to-back Stanley Cups by the time he turned 23. Fleury had won 375 games for the Pens, more than any netminder in team history by far, and was a member of three of the five Stanley Cup-winning squads Pittsburgh has fielded. He led them to the first title of the Crosby/Malkin era in 2009 and despite Murray being the guy for the next two, they probably don’t win in 2016 without Fleury, and definitely don’t win in 2017, as Fleury started 15 games through the first three rounds of that run after Murray got injured prior to Pittsburgh’s playoff opener.

Was it the right decision for Pittsburgh, to choose Murray over Fleury? Without a doubt. But it was by no means an easy one.

Then there were the lean years Fleury endured prior to this one, when he went 29-13-4 with a .927 save percentage and 2.24 GAA during the regular season. Despite being one of the better goaltenders in the game, inconsistent play and a handful of injuries – including concussion issues during the 2015-16 season – plagued Fleury’s game. In 49 postseason games from 2010-15, Fleury went 22-26 with a .895 save percentage and 2.86 GAA.

When Murray emerged during the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Fleury fell behind the Penguins young netminder on the depth chart.

Fleury has re-established himself in the past 13 months, beginning with the run he went on in last year’s playoffs when he played as good as he had in the postseason since leading the Penguins to the Stanley Cup in 2009. During the regular season, he became the 13th goalie in NHL history to win 400 games. Now he’s climbing up leaderboards, matching and passing Hall of Famers along the way.

By leading Vegas to two more wins, Fleury will reach his fifth Stanley Cup Final. He’ll be there for the third straight year, and will look to have a hand (well, this time a lead role) in a Stanley Cup champion for the third straight year. This time around it will be for a different franchise.

I don’t know what you qualify it as. A rebirth? A renaissance? A great player reminding us of what he is? Regardless, it’s fun to watch.

A Night in Milestones

In case you spent last night away from the confines of the hockey world, there was some history made last night.

It started early in the night in Washington when Alex Ovechkin – playing opposite the consensus Next Ovechkin in Jets winger Patrik Laine – scored 4:35 into that game for his 599th career goal. Approximately an hour later he entered the prestigious 600-goal club with his NHL-leading 42nd goal of the season. Then a couple hours later, a couple hours up 95 in Philadelphia, the Golden Knights finished off their 3-2 win over the Flyers to give Marc-Andre Fleury his 400th career win.

Who said a sleepy Monday in March?

Ovechkin reaching 600 was the big fish. He had a small case of the coming-up-on-a-milestone yips, entering last night with no goals (or points) in three straight games after he rushed to 598 with six goals in seven games. Obviously the moment was great. At Capital One Arena, against Laine, the aforementioned protege to Ovi. But honestly, I came out of it expecting more.

Remember his 500th?

No doubt that 500 goals is a huge milestone. It’s like 500 home runs. The moment that came with that goal in January 2016 was more than warranted. But 600 seems bigger. Ovechkin is the 20th player to do it, and one of just four to reach the milestone in under 1,000 games (other three being Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, and Brett Hull, not a big deal). Maybe the whole team coming off the bench on 500 was easier because that was more of a set play than 600, but there would’ve been time after the goal for Ovechkin to go out on the ice, do a bit of a victory lap, before getting back to the game.

Either way, another milestone triggers the talking point of whether Ovechkin is the greatest goal scorer ever. At the very least, he’s right there with Maurice Richard, Mike Bossy, Phil Esposito, Bobby Hull, and Brett Hull. Since coming into the league, Ovechkin’s 600 sets the pace, 195 goals above second-place Sidney Crosby. Behind Sid it’s Rick Nash and Eric Staal at 379, only 221 tallies back of the Great Eight. If he holds onto the lead in the Richard Trophy race, Ovechkin will lead the NHL in goals for the seventh time, tying Bobby Hull for the most ever.

No player has dominated their era when it comes to goal scoring the way Ovechkin has. He’s made scoring goals look easy in a time when scoring goals is harder than it’s ever been.

And then there’s keeping pucks out of the net. Marc-Andre Fleury has done a pretty good job of that over the years. You don’t reach 400 wins on accident, and Fleury did just that with a 38-save performance on Monday in Philadelphia.

Fleury is the 13th goaltender to reach the milestone. Of the other 12, seven are in the Hall of Fame (Patrick Roy, Ed Belfour, Terry Sawchuk, Jacques Plante, Tony Esposito, Glenn Hall, Grant Fuhr). Of the five that aren’t, three most certainly will be when they become eligible (Martin Brodeur, Roberto Luongo, Henrik Lundqvist), and the other two (Curtis Joseph, Chris Osgood) should get in eventually.

If Fleury isn’t a Hall of Famer, he’s right on the cusp. He gets a bad rap being a first overall pick, hasn’t been as great as Lundqvist, and has struggled in stretches, particularly in the playoffs. At the same time, the Penguins don’t reach the Stanley Cup Final in 2008, go back and win it in 2009, or become the first team to repeat in two decades last season without Fleury on their roster. Where would Pittsburgh be this season had they not lost Fleury, who is 25-9-3 with a .930 save percentage and 2.15 GAA in 37 games this season for the Golden Knights, to Vegas in the expansion draft last summer?

You don’t win 400 games on accident. Or reach 600 goals on weird bounces of the puck. Ovechkin and Fleury have had two of the best careers of the post-Lockout (2004-05, at least) era. It’s fitting they reached their big milestones on the same night.

Here comes Vegas

Can’t really draw up a better way to begin a franchise than going into the building of a preseason favorite to win the Stanley Cup and coming out with two points off the back of a nice third-period comeback.

That’s exactly what the Golden Knights did on Friday, with the help of 45 saves by Marc-Andre Fleury and a pair of third-period goals by James Neal to beat the Stars 2-1 in Dallas to kick off the expansion franchise. Vegas is just the seventh expansion franchise in NHL history to win their first game, and just the third to do it on the road.

Pretty impressive stuff, and comes with an added feel-good touch given what has happened his Las Vegas this week.

I don’t think Vegas is going to win a ton of games this season – they’re not strong down the middle and defensively they’re not great – just a lot of guys that would play key roles on good teams but aren’t guys you want being you’re top option. But there’s plenty of veteran DNA on this club and that’s going to make them at the very least competitive most nights. It also helps their best player is their goalie, as evidenced by Fleury’s 45-save performance.

Stat of the Day: Braden Holtby 3rd Fastest to 150 Wins

There seems to be little debate to the claim that Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price is the best in the world at his position.

But Braden Holtby, he of the Washington Capitals, might have something to say about that.

With Price out of commission last season, Holtby took the Vezina Trophy holding the crease for Washington, which won the Presidents Trophy with 120 points. Had he not been on such a loaded Capitals club, he could’ve very well taken the Hart Trophy as league MVP, as Price did in 2015.

Holtby is out to another blazing start in his defense of the Vezina, stopping 52 of 55 shots for the Caps, who are 1-0-1 going into Tuesday’s matchup with Colorado. And with his first win of the season on Saturday against the Islanders, a 2-1 victory, he became the latest netminder to join the 150-win club.

You’re probably saying, “Who cares?” right now, and for good reason. The 27-year-old is the 116th netminder to reach the milestone, and is time zones away from Martin Brodeur’s record of 691 victories. He’s one of 24 active players to win 150 games.

Here’s the hook – Holtby needed just 246 games to reach that mark, the third-fastest dash to the milestone. Only Ken Dryden and Andy Moog reached that mark quicker, in 241 and 245 games, respectively.

It’s the latest instance of just how good Holtby is, something that has come to light over the past couple seasons.

Going back to his breakout in the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs as a 22-year-old, in which backstopped the Caps to a first-round knockout of the then-defending champion Boston Bruins before taking the top-seeded Rangers to Game 7, Holtby has led the league in wins, with 136. He’s tied with Roberto Luongo for sixth in save percentage among goalies with 200 games played going back to the start of the 2012-13 season, trailing only Cory Schneider, Tuukka Rask, Corey Crawford, Ben Bishop, and Henrik Lundqvist in that category. He’s ninth (2.39) in GAA, and trails on Marc-Andre Fleury with 20 shutouts.