By Carter Brooks
Photos by Geoff Burke and James Carey Lauder
The Stanley Cup is coming to Manitoba. The only question left to ask is, where? With players, coaches, and managers on each team represented in the Final holding deep Manitoban ties, there certainly will be a Cup celebration within the province this coming summer.
Head Coach Barry Trotz and the Washington Capitals can almost taste it. The Capitals picked up their third win of the 2018 Stanley Cup Final Monday night at home against the high-flying Vegas Golden Knights, going up three-games-to-one in the best of seven seres.
Trotz, a native of Dauphin, MB, grew up playing junior hockey in the Western Hockey League for the Regina Pats - capturing the championship in 1980. Trotz also laced up for his own Dauphin Kings in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League, winning the league championship and the Anavet Cup before turning his attention to the coaching world.
After a handful of unsuccessful season in the American Hockey League, Trotz began coaching at the University of Manitoba. He then transitioned back to coach his hometown Kings in 1986, before spending seven seasons on the bench in the AHL.
Trotz was hired by the Nashville Predators in 1997, even before the expansion team had its roster. As the Predators' first Head Coach, he held the reins for the next 15 seasons. After back-to-back seasons in which the Preds missed the postseason, Trotz got the hook, but was immediately signed by the Washington Capitals.
The now 55-year-old has guided the Capitals to a 205-89-34 record in four seasons in Washington, however the Capitals - or any team that Trotz has coached for that matter - have never made it past the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Led by high-scoring centreman Evgeny Kuznetsov, an exceptionally determined captain Alexander Ovechkin, and a former Vezina Trophy winner in goaltender Braden Holtby, the 2015-16 Jack Adams Award winner is in good hands, entering game five of the Final looking for just one win in the upcoming three games.
After falling behind the NHL's newest franchise 1-0 in a 6-4 shootout of a game one, the Capitals bounced back tremendously, picking up victories in three-straight contests, including a rare victory in Vegas. Washington currently has the Golden Knights on the ropes, as the expansion team had never lost two, let alone three-straight playoff games. Their three-game streak also equals their longest such run of the past season.
Monday's 6-2 rout of the Western Conference champs was highlighted by a three-goal outburst in the first period, including goals from T.J. Oshie, Tom Wilson and Devante Smith-Pelly. The onslaught continued throughout the night, as Washington mercilessly pounded their visiting opponent, putting every puck possible past Marc-Andre Fleury and into the Vegas cage.
Fleury - who looked near unsolvable through three rounds of the playoffs - has put up disastrous numbers in the Final, stopping just 85.4 percent of the shots he has faced through four games, a far cry from the .946 save percentage he held through three rounds of postseason action.
Washington will look to continue exploiting Fleury will their lateral play and power play success. The series now shifts to Vegas for the fifth game on Thursday. The Stanley Cup will be in the building as the Capitals will have the potential to claim the Holy Grail in game five in Nevada. If fellow Manitobans Ryan Reaves, Cody Eakin and Kelly McCrimmon's team manage a victory, game six will go in Washington on Sunday evening.
Madison Bowey - a young defenceman who spent 51 games with the Capitals this past season - will have his name engraved on the Cup if Washington pulls off the series victory. Although not yet dressing in the playoffs for the Capitals, Bowey did exceed the minimum number of games required (41) in the past season by the league when determining the names to be written on Lord Stanley's Cup.
With coach Trotz' contract up for renewal in July, the Dauphin product will certainly see a significant raise going forward. Whether he re-signs with Washington, takes on a new project elsewhere, or decides to call it quits after this strenuous, yet potentially incredulously rewarding campaign, he will certainly look upon the 2017-18 season and the 2018 playoffs as one of the greatest years of his hockey career.