- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 5, 2018

At the start of the Stanley Cup Final, Barry Trotz acknowledged that the expansion Vegas Golden Knights had an amazing story, one that was good for hockey.

The Washington Capitals‘ coach also pointed out his own team’s storyline was “pretty darn good, too,” a point he reiterated Tuesday morning.

“I don’t think you would expect a first-year team to be in the finals, and they’ve got a fantastic story,” Trotz said. “I don’t think too many people check the box, ‘Washington Capitals: Eastern Conference Champions,’ starting the year.”

In other words, this year’s finals have been a battle of two different kinds of underdogs, which in turn has drawn more fans to the television screen than recent matchups. The Capitals lead the series 3-1 after their Game 4 win Monday.

“I think both teams have taken on a little bit of an underdog role coming into it,” Trotz said. “I don’t think a lot of people respected us. I don’t think a lot of people respected the Vegas game. You know, the only thing you can do is prove people wrong, and I think both teams, to this point, have done that. Both teams have exceeded expectations on both sides.”

The Vegas-Washington matchup has helped spark more casual interest in hockey, as television ratings for the Stanley Cup Final have ticked up while ratings for the NBA Finals have fallen a bit.

Games 1, 2 and 3 of the Stanley Cup Final all set three-year ratings highs, according to NBC Sports’ metrics. Game 3, for example, attracted 14 percent more viewers than Game 3 of last year’s finals and 32 percent more than Game 3 of 2016.

Meanwhile, the ratings for Games 1 and 2 of the NBA Finals were slightly down, no doubt a product of the fourth straight installment of the same matchup, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors — the opposite of underdog teams. Basketball still outperforms hockey overall.

The Capitals and Golden Knights are not underdogs in the cliched “Cinderella” sense, even though the Golden Knights did not exist a year ago. Vegas won the Pacific Division and went 12-3 in its first three playoff series with a roster of expansion-draft players often branded as the “Golden Misfits.”

On the other side, the Capitals‘ run was less than predictable due to their recent letdowns in the postseason. Trotz felt Washington was considered the underdog against Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

“And then coming into this series, everybody seemed to be going Vegas’ way,” Trotz said. “I don’t know if we were underdogs, but I felt we were at least on even ground with them.”

Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant was also sure to draw a distinction between the clubs.

“Washington’s had an outstanding season,” Gallant said. “When the season started, they said they probably missed the boat the last few years without winning a championship. It took a lot of pressure off that team. They came out and played an outstanding season. They played unbelievable hockey in the playoffs.”

The series returns to Las Vegas this week, with Game 5 slated for Thursday night at T-Mobile Arena. The Capitals have three chances to win one more game and earn the privilege of lifting the Stanley Cup, which would cap off a series of two teams that were “written off” in some way earlier this year.

“It’s how you’re playing at the end of the year that really matters,” Trotz said. “That’s what I always seem to find out. How your team’s playing at the end of the season, it usually carries over into the playoffs.”


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