So...who had Winnipeg-Vegas in the Western Conference Finals when the season began? How about when the Stanley Cup Playoffs started? Regardless, this is an intriguing matchup on several levels.
Entering the playoffs back in April, neither the Winnipeg Jets nor the Vegas Golden Knights had won a playoff game.
Before this spring, the Jets had qualified for the playoffs twice in their history (2007 when they were the Thrasher and 2015 in Winnipeg) and were swept in both series. The Jets disposed of Minnesota in five game and dethroned last season's Western Conference champion, the Nashville Predators, in on the road in Game 7 5-1.
The Golden Knights, who in its expansion year continues to exceed expectations, not only won their first-ever playoff game but swept the Los Angeles Kings in the process and then beat the San Jose Sharks, a team that was just in the Stanley Cup Final two seasons ago, in six games.
In this Western Conference Final, it features two markets with different climates but both are in uncharted territory.
Winnipeg, which has a metro population of under 800,000 is the NHL's equivalent of Green Bay and the Packers. Canadians live and breath hockey. Winnipeg fans are no different. It's a fanbase that perfected the "whiteout", never saw their team make it further than the second round the first time around and suffered 15 years without an NHL team when the original Jets departed for Arizona. With these Jets (who flew away from Atlanta in 2011), they proved they could win "a" game in the playoffs and win a series, which exorcises those demons that made it through customs when the Thrashers relocated.
Blake Wheeler, a carry-over from the Thrasher years, had 91 points (23 goals, 68 assists) this season for Winnipeg. He may not be a household name like Crosby and Ovechkin are in the United State but he's a rock star in Manitoba.
Patrick Laine, the team's first round pick taken second overall in 2016, led the team in goals (44) this season. The Jets have finally given outsiders something other than the snow and cold to talk about when Winnipeg comes up.
When it comes to Vegas, I have stopped saying "The Golden Knights can't do this!" and "No way the Golden Knights can possibly do that!" ever since their inaugural season began in October.
While past expansion teams struggle in their first year and develop younger players around veterans picked up in the expansion draft, the Golden Knights broke away from tradition. Not only did they post a winning record, but they won their division and cruised through the first round and in round two, beat the Sharks in six games.
The Golden Knights are not a normal expansion team. They are the first in the NHL's salary cap era and had the chance to grab some pretty good veterans in the expansion draft. A three-time Stanley Cup champion goalie in Marc-Andre Fleury and others like James Neal, Derek Engelland and William Karlsson.
Karlsson is a 40-plus goal scorer and Jonathon Marchessault joins him in the 70-plus point club. David Perron, another veteran player grabbed by the Golden Knights in the expansion draft, had 50 assists this season.
For the first time since 2009, the Stanley Cup champion will be a team that is not the Penguins (2009, 2016, 2017), Blackhawks (2010, 2013, 2015), Kings (2012, 2014) or Bruins (2011).
As someone who screams about the lack of parity in the NBA Playoffs (another Cavs-Warriors Finals is in the works there), we're finally getting it in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs and it's good parity!
The only team left that has smelled the Stanley Cup Final in the last decade are the Tampa Bay Lightning, who lost to the Blackhawks in 2015. The other three are in new waters. The Washington Capitals were finally able to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round and will try to make the Final for the first time since 1998 and win their first Stanley Cup.
Washington physicality and Tampa's speed should make for an exciting East Final, but the more intriguing of two series has to be Vegas-Winnipeg.
It may not be the best series for TV ratings in the U.S. but the Vegas storyline will keep normal fans watching and those who stroll in at playoff time popping in and out.
Expect all of Canada to get behind Winnipeg. That country hasn't had a summer with the Stanley Cup since 1993.
If the team from the west takes the Stanley Cup this season, it's a huge first for that team, especially Vegas.
Western Conference Finals: Jets in 7
Eastern Conference Finals: Lightning in 6