Ex-Penguin Goalie, Capitals Find Redemption In Stanley Cup Final
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Let's talk now about, really, one of the most remarkable runs in pro sports history. The Vegas Golden Knights have made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, and this is only their first year in the National Hockey League. They won the first game of the series. Game two is tonight.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Wow. The Golden Knights were created after the NHL decided to expand. The team was cobbled together from players castoff by other teams. That's the way it is with expansion franchises. They even call themselves the misfits, and the Knight who may personify them most is 33-year-old star goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury played with the Pittsburgh Penguins for 13 seasons. And when Pittsburgh let him go, Vegas grabbed him.
GREG WYSHYNSKI: He has this competitive fire that's kind of bubbling underneath - this wonderful, jovial personality that made him the face of the franchise for the Vegas Golden Knights immediately upon his arrival there. But he's an absolute competitor who clearly took it personally when the Penguins decided to move on without him.
GREENE: That is ESPN senior NHL writer Greg Wyshynski, and he was speaking to our co-host Rachel Martin about Fleury.
RACHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: So let's get a little more of a sense of this particular player, Marc-Andre Fleury. The first game in the series not his best performance. But overall, it's been an incredible season for him, right?
WYSHYNSKI: It really has, and, you know, Fleury was a beloved player in Pittsburgh for a very long time with the Penguins. But Marc-Andre Fleury had been the backup for the last couple seasons to a goaltender by the name of Matt Murray who was roughly 10 years younger and a lot cheaper. So unfortunately for Fleury, you know, he was sort of the odd man out. So what Fleury did - he did them a solid and said, I understand I'm not the guy here anymore. I'll go off to greener pastures. I'll go to Vegas if Vegas wants me in the expansion draft. And lo and behold, Vegas made him one of their initial picks in the expansion draft. So...
WYSHYNSKI: ...Did the Penguins a solid and ended up in Vegas. Yep.
MARTIN: Who's laughing now? Now he's in the final.
MARTIN: And now he's up against the Washington Capitals. I mean, this is the other team in the Stanley Cup Finals - first time in 20 years. And they got here because they beat the Pittsburgh Penguins. And they had had such a hard time beating Pittsburgh because of Fleury, and now they're up against him again.
WYSHYNSKI: The Capitals weren't expected to contend this year. Their window of opportunity seemed like it was closed. And what they've done in each round is exercise a different demon - first round, a guy named John Tortorella who used to coach the New York Rangers that beat the Capitals twice in the playoffs. Second round, they beat the Penguins, their torturers through decades. And here in the final round - it's like a video game. It's the final stage. The big boss at the end - it's Marc-Andre Fleury, the goaltender for the Penguins that tormented them. It is a complete redemption tour for the Capitals, and that includes taking on Fleury in the final.
MARTIN: Amazing. But no matter who wins, I mean, this is going to be a Stanley Cup for the history books, right?
WYSHYNSKI: I was just saying this to somebody at the press box. It is the first Stanley Cup Final I can remember where I didn't really have a singular rooting interest as a journalist or as a fan. Either of these teams winning would be a fantastic story. Obviously, the Vegas Golden Knights winning would be historic - to have an expansion team win a championship in their inaugural season. But on the Capital's side, Alexander Ovechkin, by the end of his career, could be somebody who challenges Wayne Gretzky's all-time goal-scoring record in the NHL. The last thing any hockey fan wants is for him to go into the hall of fame and then have some - probably Canadian writer say...
WYSHYNSKI: ...But he doesn't have a Stanley Cup ring. And so we want to take that off the table and give him his championship so we can just not have to hear that.
MARTIN: Right (laughter).
WYSHYNSKI: But either way, Vegas or the Capitals - first-time winner of the cup and an amazing story for the National Hockey League.
MARTIN: We all win. We all win with this. Greg Wyshynski with ESPN. Thanks so much, Greg.
(SOUNDBITE OF BRONTIDE'S "CABIN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.