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Stanley Cup matches NHL newcomers with veterans who exceeded expectations

Saturday night the Las Vegas Golden Knights and Washington Capitals face off for game three in their Stanley Cup matchup. A year ago, the Golden Knights weren't even a team. How did they make it to the finals on their first try? And can the Caps finally make good after coming up short in playoff series past? Amna Nawaz discusses the two teams with Greg Wyshynski of ESPN.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    If we're honest, we will admit hockey often doesn't get the same respect in the U.S. that the other major league athletics get.

    But the Stanley Cup finals provide a different level of intensity that attract more fans.

    And, as Amna Nawaz tells us, there are two great stories behind this year's face-off.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Judy, the Las Vegas Golden Knights may be the most successful expansion team ever in North America.

    In their very first season as a team, they made it to the finals, and they did it by scooping up talent that was basically unprotected by rival teams.

    The Washington Capitals, on the other hand, have knocked on the door of the finals a few times already. But even with one of the league's best players, they have come up short every time. In fact, since 1984, they have blown a big lead in a playoff series 10 times.

    This year, the battle for Lord Stanley's Cup is tied at one game apiece, and tomorrow night the Caps and the Knights face off for game three in Washington, D.C.

    Joining us now is Greg Wyshynski. He is ESPN's senior NHL writer, creator of the Puck Daddy hockey blog at Yahoo, and co-host of the hockey podcast "Puck Soup."

    Greg, you're a busy man. Thanks for making the time.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Greg Wyshynski:

    My pleasure.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Listen, let me ask you about this now perspective on this matchup.

    Just when you're looking at Golden Knights, they weren't even a team a year ago. How crazy is it that we're talking about them as a potential championship winner?

  • Greg Wyshynski:

    Well, everybody you talk to now will say, oh, we saw it coming. But, of course, no one saw it coming.

    No one thought there they would be a playoff team. No one thought certainly they would challenge for a championship.

    But you can see the roots for this in the expansion draft, in the sense that they were given, unlike the other expansion teams for the last 30 years, a better cut of player. The NHL made the rules a little bit tighter on teams.

    So not only did the Golden Knights get better players in the draft, but the teams were then leveraged into trading players to make sure that certain guys weren't taken.

    So, the top line for the Golden Knights, their three best players, William Karlsson, Reilly Smith, Jonathan Marchessault, so acquired via trade vs. being drafted.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, now we're looking at Las Vegas as a potential championship sports town. It's not exactly one with like a storied sports history, right?

    What does it mean for you, looking on this now, from the perspective of folks who live there, that haven't really had that? They have had some semi-pro teams come through, right? They had a run with college basketball and Runnin' Rebels in the '80s and '90s.

    They could have VA championship on their hands.

  • Greg Wyshynski:

    You know, I'm somebody who thinks that it's too much too soon.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Greg Wyshynski:

    I think they should lose and then be hungrier for the win next time.

    But I talked to a lot of Vegas locals when I was there. And they made it clear, we are long-suffering. We have waited decades for a team to come here professionally. And it's just that leagues were always worried about — because of the gambling aspect, about match fixing and things like that, so never had a team put there.

    But the other thing about Vegas that is important to remember about this team is how bonded the Golden Knights are with the city after the shooting tragedy on 1 October. Their first home game was several days after the shooting.

    Their first home game featured players walking out on the ice with first-responders. A player by the name of Deryk Engelland, who is a resident of Vegas even before he was a member of the team, giving an impassioned speech about how much the city means to him and how much the team wants to mean to the city.

    And everywhere you go around the arena, you see Vegas Strong things. First-responders and victims' families are honored at games. There's a bond between the city and this team that no one could have anticipated because of this tragedy. And there's no question that the motivation to play for that city and that community has been one of the reasons they have thrived this year.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, folks in Vegas have been waiting a while for an opportunity like this.

    Fair to say the same for folks in Washington, D.C., right? The last time that they were playing for the Cup, it was 1998?

  • Greg Wyshynski:

    Yes.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Right? They got swept by Detroit. It wasn't a good time for them.

    What would that mean to the folks in D.C. to actually win?

  • Greg Wyshynski:

    It would be tremendous.

    The drought in D.C. sports-wise goes well beyond that, back to the Redskins' last Super Bowl, as far as the last championship they have had here.

    But the amazing thing about the Capitals' run is that, for year after year after year with Alex Ovechkin, the aforementioned superstar on the team, they were always predicted for big things, to win the Cup maybe. And they never would. They would always lose in the second round, usually to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

    And so this year, there were no expectations really. The window of opportunity looked like it was closed. They were going to go with a younger team, a less proven team. And no one really expected them to win.

    So, of course, what do they do? They start winning. They get past Pittsburgh for the first time in Ovechkin's tenure with the team. And now they're playing for the Cup a year after everybody assumed their window to win was closed.

    And it just goes to show, you never know. You never know what's going to happen for your team.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You never know. Game three will be one to watch.

    That's tomorrow night.

    Greg Wyshynski, thanks for your time.

  • Greg Wyshynski:

    Thanks for having me.

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