The Washington Capitals are facing elimination, the Tampa Bay Lightning are one win away from the Stanley Cup Final, and yet the talk leading up to Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals was about a team thousands of miles away, in a different conference.
"They're a wonderful story," said Lightning coach Jon Cooper of the expansion Vegas Golden Knights, who are four wins away from winning the Stanley Cup in their inaugural season after dispatching the Winnipeg Jets in five games Sunday.
While a first-year team making this kind of playoff run is the stuff of underdog legend, Cooper said the Knights' success is easy to comprehend, if not exactly predictable. It all starts with owner Bill Foley, GM George McPhee and coach Gerard Gallant.
"It's a success story is what it is. It's not a Cinderella story," he said. "There's been talk of 'how could that happen' or whatever. I'll tell you how it happened: They got an owner that hired an unreal GM and they got an unreal GM that hired an unreal coach. They were all left to do their jobs. They were given a framework to work with. They could've screwed it up or they could've done really well, and they chose to do really well. They played within the rules that were given to them, and this is what you get.
"I know the gentlemen well that are involved, the GM and coach, and I couldn't be prouder of the guys of the job they've done. They deserved to get there, and I only hope we're the team they get to play."
Players on the Lightning and Capitals expressed amazement at the Knights' run.