2018 NHL Playoffs: The non-hockey fan’s guide to the 2018 Stanley Cup Final

Here we are again: The Stanley Cup Final.

That's the hockey thing, right?

It sure is. 

Oh. I don't really watch hockey. I'm not Canadian. Why should I care about this?

Well, first of all. A Canadian team hasn't won the Cup since 1993 so hockey is actually the United States' sport now. And because playoff hockey is honestly amazing and one of the best postseasons thrill rides in all of sports. One time a guy on Twitter said it was like snorting cocaine and riding a motorcycle out of a helicopter.

Alright, calm down.

Sorry, just trying to capture the spirit of the thing and convince you to tune in. You probably won't regret it! (At least until you experience one of those famous NHL video reviews that everyone can't get enough of.)

Who's playing? 

16 teams entered the playoffs, but only the Washington Capitals and the Vegas Golden Knights are left.

Who the hell are the Vegas Golden Knights? Vegas has a hockey team? Since when?

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Yes, Vegas has a hockey team that is just four wins away from a Stanley Cup.  USATSI

Since about a year ago. This is their first season.

And they're in the Finals?

It's FINAL. Singular, as in one final series. Hockey fans get angry about that.

God, you people are the worst. OK, they're in the FINAL?

Yep. It's crazy. 

How the hell did that happen? Where did their players come from?

There was an expansion draft last summer. They got to draft players from the other 30 teams. 

And so they just took every team's best player and made a super squad and that's how they got to the finals – ugh, FINAL – in their first season?

No, not exactly. Every team got to protect a bunch of players, and guys with less than two years of NHL experience were exempt. The Golden Knights got to pick from the rest of the pool.

OK, so if they just picked from every team's leftovers, how did they get so good?

Well, their general manager was really smart about it. He made smart picks, and he also convinced a couple of teams to trade him additional players  (or draft picks) as part of an agreement to not select certain unprotected players.

So, he was just good at his job?

Yeah, and some of their players had unexpectedly good seasons. I can tell you about some of them later, if you want.

OK, sure this story is intriguing. Has this ever happened before?

No, not really. This is the first expansion team to reach the championship in any North American sport in 40 years.

Damn, what a story. Hockey fans must be loving this, huh?

Some of them are really into it, but some of them seem to be really mad about it. 

What? Why?

Well some fans are really bitter that Vegas is so good so fast. They think Vegas fans should have to suffer for a long time before they "deserve" a Cup. 

Does Vegas even have fans?

Yeah, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. They've packed their home arena all season and they've been loud and fun as heck.

And drunk?

Oh yeah, for sure drunk too.

Cool. So shouldn't those bitter fans just be more mad at their own team for taking so long to put together a championship team rather than being mad at Vegas only needing a year to be great?

I think so. But some fans like to say the NHL "gave" Vegas a championship roster through the expansion draft.

Really? So people expected them to be this good? 

Hell no. Pretty much everyone thought they were going to suck -- even their owner. They entered the season with 500-1 odds to win the Cup.

What?! Did you bet on them?

No. I thought they were going to suck. 

Haha you idiot!

I know.

But if these people who are mad knew the NHL was giving them a championship team, shouldn't they have bet on them?

You would think. And they probably wouldn't be mad if they did.

True. So what about the Capitals? Do they still have Ovechkin? I know him.

Yup. He's going for his first Stanley Cup. This is actually the first time they've made it out of the second round in the 13 years he's been on the team.

So he finally stopped choking and showed up in the playoffs?

Hey, listen up, pal. Ovechkin was never the problem. He showed up in the playoffs and scored and did the things he was supposed to do pretty much every other year. The problem was secondary contributions. It's a team game, man. IT'S A TEAM GAME!!

LET GO OF ME, YOU PSYCHO!

I'm sorry. I get really worked up about this false choker narrative. It's unfair to Ovi. He's a generational talent and an international treasure. 

My bad. Are you good?

Ovechkin is playing some of the best hockey of his life right now.

You good?

He's a first-ballot Hall of Famer and maybe the best pure goal-scorer of all time. 

You good?

Yeah.

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Alexander Ovechkin has been nothing but brilliant in the Caps' playoff run.  USATSI

Cool.  So which one of these teams is better?

Well, both of these teams have their strengths and weaknesses and, honestly, anything  can really happen in the playo— 

You don't have a clue, do you?

To be real, no…not really. These playoffs have been really confusing and weird and I'm kind of shell-shocked we're even here right now. 

Just give me the numbers. What do the stats say?

Well, Vegas ranked better offensively and defensively than Washington during the regular season. And they finished with more points in the standings. And they've only lost three games all postseason. 

So, Vegas then?

And they just completely frustrated the Winnipeg Jets -- one of the league's best teams -- and they only needed five games to beat them.

So…Vegas then?

They're more well-rested than the Capitals. And they have home ice advantage.

BUT THEY'RE AN EXPANSION TEAM IN THEIR INAUGURAL SEASON. NONE OF THIS MAKES ANY SENSE AND I REFUSE TO BE BRAINWASHED. 

God, you're annoying. Just tell me which one of these teams I should root for.

Well, either way we're getting a team that's about to win its first Stanley Cup. I guess it just depends whether you'd rather root for the long-suffering team/fanbase finally breaking through, or the incredibly unlikely first-year story. 

OK, I'll think on it. Give me some players on Vegas I should root for.

Well, for starters, Marc-Andre Fleury. He's been amazing. 

Who?

He's the goalie for Vegas. He was with the Penguins for forever, and he won three Stanley Cups with them. But he lost the starting job for the last two and was the backup until Vegas took him in the expansion draft. 

And now he's the starter again?

Yeah, and he's been UNBELIEVABLE in the playoffs, which is funny because years ago people criticized him for shrinking during the postseason. But he's been the best goalie in these playoffs. He's got the best save percentage and the most shutouts. This is the best he's ever played in his life, and it's a huge reason why the Golden Knights are here. 

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Fleury has been in vintage form for the Golden Knights.  USATSI

Oh, that's cool.

And he's got the best smile in hockey.

That's nice, I guess. Who else?

"Wild Bill" Karlsson.

Whoa, cool nickname.

Hell yeah, it is.

Who is he?

William Karlsson. He's the Knights' top line center, and he's been the most surprising player of this season. Prior to this season, the most goals he'd ever scored in a season was 9. He had 18 career goals in three seasons with the Ducks and Blue Jackets. Then, the Golden Knights selected him in the draft and he scored 43 this season. FORTY-THREE! That's third-most this year. 

How is that even possible?

Beats me! But he's been a great fit in Vegas and they seem to be getting the best out of him both offensively and defensively. 

I bet they're glad they drafted him.

Not only that, the Blue Jackets gave them a first and second-round pick so that Vegas would take him (and one of their bad contracts). 

Jeez. Now I get what you were talking about with their GM playing the Expansion Draft well.

Also consider this: Karlsson's two linemates on the top line came from the same team. The Florida Panthers lost Jonathan Marchessault in the draft and then traded Reilly Smith to Vegas for a fourth-rounder. 

Why is that significant?

Well, because they were two of Florida's leading scorers, and they just gave them away for almost nothing. They've both been excellent and a ton of fun to watch with the Golden Knights. Oh, and the Panthers missed the playoffs by one point this year. 

Ha! That sucks. Their GM must feel like an idiot.

He tried to justify it by saying "defense wins championships."

So do those guys suck at defense?

A big reason why they've been so successful is because of how good they are defensively. Also, Washington was 15th in defensive ranking this year. Florida was 13th.

Well then…

Yeah.

Anyone else?

Nate Schmidt. He's one of Vegas' better defensemen and he was the guy they took from Washington in the expansion draft. Also, he's funny and looks like an adult baby.

A what now?

An adult baby. Like, a baby that is somehow also an adult.

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Nate Schmidt, everybody! USATSI

Alright. So who besides Ovechkin is worth rooting for on Washington?

Why would you need someone else? 

I don't know, just because?

Listen, all you need is Ovechkin. A few years ago, he got drunk during the league's televised All-Star Draft and it was hilarious. He was begging to get picked last so he could win a car. Must-see TV.

Oh man, that sounds entertaining. I'll have to tune in next year. 

They don't do it anymore.

Why not? 

Because it was fun, and the NHL hates fun. But just imagine that version of Ovechkin, but for like a full week-long celebration...one that possibly starts in Vegas. And has a parade. It would be glorious. 

OK, but who else?

They have T.J. Oshie. He's the American shootout guy from the Olympics four years ago.

Oh I know him! He's neat and has those sweet dekes and stuff. Cool, I'll definitely root to see him in a shootout.

There are no shootouts in playoff hockey. 

Wait, what? Why not?

That's just during the regular season. 

Well, that's dumb.

ACTUALLY, YOU KNOW WHA—OK, breathe. Actually, shootouts are just a skills competition that can be sort of a buzzkill at the end of incredibly dramatic, fast-paced games. Overtime playoff hockey is one of the world's most chaotic and beautiful things, and you never want to put a time limit on that. 

OK.

Anyway, you can also root for John Carlson.

Why?

Because he's one of the Capitals best, most exciting defensemen and every time he does something remotely good, he gets exponentially more rich. 

Explain.

He's a free agent after this season. Some team is going to give him a billion dollars because of his playoff impact.

Why would I root for someone else to get rich? That has no effect on my life.

Good point.

So now what? 

Just watch the Stanley Cup Final. It's gonna be fun. It starts on Monday in Vegas. Make sure you tune in early enough to watch the pregame intro. 

Why?

Because Vegas' pregame ceremonies are ridiculously campy and over-the-top and they gotten progressively more insane throughout the playoffs. They have 'Tron'-themed drumlines, trial by combat and crank sirens. Last round, a literal golden knight chopped a literal jet in half. 

Uh, what?

Vegas, baby.

Does this team have a mascot?

Yeah. Its name is Chance and it looks like Binya Binya from "Gullah Gullah Island," but on crack.

I think I know who I'm rooting for.    

Of course you do.   

Pete Blackburn is from Boston, so there's a good chance you don't like him already. He has been a writer at CBS Sports since 2017 and usually aims to take a humorous and light-hearted approach to the often... Full Bio

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