It could all come to an end Thursday night. D.C.’s 26-year championship drought. Vegas’ historic dream season. For the first time, the Golden Knights look despondent and fragile, mired in a three-game losing streak while the Capitals sit just one game away from hoisting the Stanley Cup.
The bounces just didn’t go their way in Game 4, as if the hockey gods snapped their fingers, turned off the music and decided enough was enough, and that Vegas’ insane house party would have to come to an end. Like the Caps and so many teams before them, the Knights would have to endure a devastating loss before becoming triumphant. That is, after all, the easiest narrative: “learn to lose as you learn to win.” An expansion team winning professional hockey’s biggest prize just doesn’t seem right when 13 others in the league have yet to do so, and four of whom have never even reached a conference final.
Though the series shifts to Vegas, the big question is whether or not Marc-Andre Fleury has anything left in the tank. He’s carried the team through the playoffs but he’s 33 years old and about to play in his 20th playoff game, the most since he claimed his first title with the Penguins in 2009. Maybe the Knights can squeeze out one more win, but even the historically disappointing Caps should be able to close out a series in which they need to just win one of the next three games.
Evgeny Kuznetsov, WAS at VGK ($11,700) – He was definitely worth the wait. After getting drafted it took four years for the Caps to convince Kuznetsov to come to D.C., and it might’ve never happened had Alex Ovechkin not blazed a path he could follow. Kuznetsov has come into his own as an elite No. 1 center and with 31 points is now the favorite to win the Conn Smythe. He has a goal and six assists in the series and has not finished a game with a negative plus-minus since Game 4 against the Pens.
Jonathan Marchessault, VGK vs. WAS ($11,400) – The little engine that could continues to prove everyone wrong, and he gets another chance in a do-or-die situation. While William Karlsson’s offense has dried up in the past two games, Marchessault and Reilly Smith continue to be able to generate quality scoring chances. The Knights will have last change on home ice, which means Gerard Gallant gets more opportunities to hide Marchessault from Matt Niskanen.
T.J. Oshie, WAS at VGK ($9,900) – Maybe his reverse hit on Colin Miller should’ve been a penalty, but the referees never make a call against the puck carrier. Oshie’s greatest strength is his ability to stay with the puck and win battles, and against a Vegas squad that looked tired for stretches, they simply didn’t have an answer. Nicklas Backstrom doesn’t seem to be feeling any ill effects from his injury, and Oshie can be a dangerous finisher with the right playmaker. Only one of his eight goals this postseason have come in the first two games of a series.
Braden Holtby, WAS at VGK ($7,500) – The premium for outplaying the guy at the other end of the ice and being one game away from claiming the championship is just $200, and even with Kuznetsov and Alex Ovechkin’s heroics let’s not forget the Caps wouldn’t be here without Holtby. He’s allowed just five goals in the past three games; sure, some of it is luck, but you’ve got to be doing some things right in order to get lucky as well.
Tom Wilson, WAS at VGK ($6,400) – If there’s a battle in the corner or a big collision, odds are that Wilson is usually involved. He’s made a good living banging anything that moves and his consistency has made him a valuable and indispensable addition to the top line. He won’t score much, but good things happen when you’re around the play and two of his five playoff goals have come against the Knights. He loves playing the villain.
Michal Kempny, WAS at VGK ($4,800) – The Blackhawks gave up on him but he’s been quite the find for the Caps. After averaging 16 minutes per game during the season, Kempny is averaging close to 18 in the playoffs, including a playoff-high 20:10 in Game 1 and 19:08 in Game 4. He’s worked his way into a top-four role and three of his five playoff points have come against the Knights. He’s got the hot hand and peaking at the right time and offers some intriguing value at this price.