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Golden Knights, Vegas Strong

Even if you're familiar with the backstory and intriguing angles of this year's Stanley Cup Final between the Vegas Golden Knights and Washington Capitals, here's some knowledge to bolster your puck chops.

1. The Golden Knights are in their first season as an expansion team, but they have already retired a jersey number. 

On the same day that the Golden Knights finished their preseason with a home match against the Sharks, Las Vegas was the site of deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. Fifty-eight people were killed at a country music festival October 1 outside Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. The Golden Knights' heartfelt response to the shooting connected them even more with the community, and the goodwill has only gone further as the team's on-ice success continues.

In the home finale of the regular season in April, the Golden Knights retired No. 58 to honor the victims.

2. The Capitals have four retired numbers: Mike Gartner (11), Dale Hunter (32), Rod Langway (5) and Yvon Labre (7). Labre scored the home goal for Washington in its expansion season of 1974-75 and he later became team captain.

The Capitals' expansion season still ranks as the worst in NHL history. They went 8-67-5. They won only one road game. And they had a 17-game losing streak in an era with no overtime let alone a shootout.

3. The Capitals' only previous Stanley Cup Final appearance was 1998. That was George McPhee's first season as general manager of the Capitals. This is McPhee's first season as general manager of the Golden Knights.

4. Playing outside has been all the rage in the past decade with Winter Classic and Stadium Series games. But the NHL's first outdoor game was in Las Vegas in 1991. This was during Wayne Gretzky's heyday with Los Angeles, and Caesars Palace booked the Kings and Rangers to play a preseason game on a temporary rink built on one of its parking lots.

The players had to walk through the casino in their gear and uniforms because the locker rooms were inside Caesars -- and that might not have even been the most unusual part of the night. Drawn by the lights and the brightness of the ice, insects swarmed the rink. Some grasshoppers got stuck on the ice. Players skated over them.

5. If the Capitals win, Alex Ovechkin would become just the seventh player since the WHA merger in 1979 to be the first overall pick in the draft and capture a Stanley Cup title for the franchise that selected him. One of the others? The guy he's trying to score against this series: Vegas goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was first overall in 2003 and won the Cup three times with the Penguins.

6. Veteran broadcaster Kenny Albert will be handling the national radio call of the Stanley Cup Final for NBC/Westwood One. In his first professional gig, Albert was the voice for the old Baltimore Skipjacks in the American Hockey League, and his road roommate was the coach, Barry Trotz, who is now in his fourth season with the Capitals.

7. Vegas coach Gerard Gallant made history as a player with the Red Wings in 1988-89 when he registered 39 goals, 54 assists and 230 penalty minutes. He was the first NHL player with at least 30 goals, 50 assists and 200 penalty minutes in a single season.

8. Before being hired in Vegas, Gallant coached the Florida Panthers. Two of Florida's top six scorers from last season have been keys to Vegas' success. The Panthers didn't protect Jonathan Marchessault in the expansion draft and traded Reilly Smith to the Golden Knights for a fourth-round pick. Marchessault and Smith were second and fourth, respectively, in team scoring for Vegas this season.

9. More Florida. The Panthers held the first overall pick in 2003. Fleury was considered the top prospect, but Florida didn't need a goalie because it had Roberto Luongo. It made a trade with the Penguins. Unfortunately for the Panthers, they have made just two playoff appearances since then, the most recent of which was 2016 -- with Gallant.

10. Vegas center Ryan Carpenter represents a different kind of Florida connection. Carpenter is from Oviedo, Florida, which is about 20 miles northeast of Orlando. Bonus fact: Oviedo is also the hometown of Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles.

Claimed off waivers by Vegas from San Jose in December, Carpenter will be just the second Florida-born player to appear in a Stanley Cup Final. Winger Dan Hinote from Leesburg, Florida, was part of Colorado's championship team in 2001. 

11. Carpenter played college hockey at Bowling Green. Vegas GM McPhee won the Hobey Baker Award as the nation's top collegiate player as a winger at Bowling Green in 1982.

12. Capitals GM Brian MacLellan was McPhee's teammate at Bowling Green. MacLellan won a Stanley Cup as a player with the Calgary Flames in 1989 and finished his career in 1992 in Detroit, where one of his teammates was ... Gerard Gallant.

13. Reminder: No shootouts in the NHL playoffs. The Capitals have T.J. Oshie, who became a household name during the 2014 Olympics with his dazzling shootout performance in the U.S. win against Russia.

14. Ovechkin was on that Russian team, and although he hasn't won any Olympic medals, his mom earned two golds as a basketball player for the Soviet Union.

15. Capitals goalie Braden Holtby once gave us this terrific anecdote about watching "Slap Shot" as a pee-wee player:

"On a road trip to La Loche, Saskatchewan, which is seven hours north of anything," Holtby said. "I remember we watched Slap Shot. I think I was 11 or 12 years old. Probably wasn't right for 11-year or 12-year-old kids, but that's what you do."

16. The Golden Knights are the first expansion team to reach the Stanley Cup Final in their first season since the St. Louis Blues in 1968, but here's the fine print: By design, the 1968 Final was going to include one expansion team. It was the first season after the league expanded beyond the Original Six, and the six new clubs were placed in the same division with the winner automatically going to the Final.

17. Vegas has one former Washington player, defenseman Nate Schmidt, acquired in the expansion draft. As Capitals GM, McPhee signed Schmidt as an undrafted college free agent from Minnesota.

18. Defenseman Brayden McNabb was the first Vegas player to wear a Golden Knights jersey in public. He did it at the NHL Awards Show in Las Vegas last year, shortly after the expansion draft. McNabb began his career with two seasons in Buffalo and three in Los Angeles.

Deryk Engelland 19. The Golden Knights entered the season with 500-1 odds to win the Stanley Cup. 

20. Now Vegas is the favorite against Washington at minus-135 (bet $135 to win $100). The Capitals are listed at plus-115 (bet $100 to win $115).

21. Golden Knights defenseman Deryk Engelland lived in Las Vegas for 14 years before joining the team as an expansion-draft acquisition from Calgary. He had met his wife in Las Vegas while playing in the minors. They settled there and started a family. On opening night, 10 days after the shooting, Engelland gave an emotional speech in an arena packed with 18,191 fans still reeling from the horror.

He finished it by saying, "Vegas Strong."

Then he scored a goal in the Golden Knights' win against Arizona.


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