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
You always remember that first job you had in radio. Mine was at iHeartMedia in Pittsburgh (back when it was still called Clear Channel). I was hired as a part-time board operator and producer for shows on ESPN Radio Pittsburgh and the man in charge of training me was David "Digby" Reynolds.
Nobody knew him as David. He was just "Digby". I didn't know his last name until I peeked at the company directory sheet a short time after I was hired.
I was hired a few days after Christmas in 2012, and I soon realized that college radio and commercial radio were two different things. I made mistakes on the board and I was still trying to learn NexGen, the automation system iHeart and my current job uses. Digby, who was acting as Assistant Program Director at ESPN Radio Pittsburgh at the time, was in charge of training me and in the first month, helped me where I fell short.
I was shocked and saddened when I saw a tweet Tuesday afternoon that he passed away unexpectedly that morning.
People who work in radio are unique and it required someone as unique as Digby to do all the things he did.
A lot of people knew him as an on-air personality on 105.9 The X, but if you really knew Digby, he was way more than that.
Digby probably worked with every station and sports radio network iHeartMedia Pittsburgh had. If you heard someone trucking down the hallway on the 3rd or 4th floor, it was probably Digby.
Another thing that made Digby unique was his appearance. He looked like a guy who worked for an alternative rock station. Along with his long hair, goatee and glasses, you could tell it was him just based on his raspy voice. The best comparison would be a lower-pitched Scott Ferrell, a Pittsburgh native and current CBS Sports Radio host. Occasionally, you would hear a soft, high-pitched "Hi!" as he briskly walked by you or anyone else in the hallway.
Digby also loved life and never seemed to sweat the small stuff.
I remember one afternoon when he told me about a carbon monoxide scare at his house the night before. He said if his windows weren't opened that night, he might have died. I thought of that after hearing about his passing earlier this week.
He enjoyed going to concerts, playing video games and while most save their vacation days for the summer months, Digby used his to hit the slopes in the winter. Everyone in the building had to plan accordingly when there was snow at Seven Springs.
If Digby liked you, he always had your back: I know he always had mine. He and Gregg Henson, who was ESPN Radio Pittsburgh's program director at the time, would give me extra duties to give me more experience. After some time, I had a talent page on the site, contributed to the social media pages and even did updates in the final few months I was there. Digby also gave me a chance to make extra money (I was hourly) by working home games on the Steelers radio broadcasts.
Having listened to Billy Hillgrove, Tunch Ilkin, the late Myron Cope and Craig Wolfley call games in the past, it was a great experience. To hear Hillgrove say my name during his list of "thank yous" following the game was a small moment that I cherished. My uncle called my dad because he heard it on a station on the network east of Pittsburgh. When he thanked Digby, it was always "The Amazing Digby".
Whether it was touching up Hillgrove's weekly interview with Mike Tomlin for pregame, grabbing highlights as they happened or making sure to tell booth producer Dan Quindlen we needed Hillgrove to do a legal I.D., it provided me a greater appreciation for what Digby did.
I moved on from iHeartMedia Pittsburgh after I got a full time job in Oklahoma to do news and sports with three stations and do play-by-play. Before I left, Digby said he was happy for me and knew there was something bigger and better awaiting me.
He was right.
A lot of the things I do at my current job came from what Digby taught me. Heck, I find myself teaching coworkers those things I learned from him.
Digby died far too young, but for the time he was on this planet, he lived it to the fullest.
Soon after I left, Digby became the Executive Producer of the Penguins Radio Network following Ray Walker's death (another great man who helped me out and also died too young), and in his first season saw his beloved Penguins win a second-straight Stanley Cup. His involvement with the team got him a spot in the parade and a Stanley Cup ring.
Digby passed away on the morning before Game 3 of the current Penguins-Capitals playoff series. It was sad to think that it would be a hockey night in Pittsburgh without him. I'm sure he would be cursing out Washington's Tom Wilson for breaking Zach Aston-Reese's jaw and concussing him with a high hit. But wherever he is now, I'm sure he likes that Wilson got suspended three games for it.
Thank you for everything, Digby. So many people have shared their own stories and you since Tuesday and I hope you knew how much you were loved by those at iHeartMedia, every listener who tuned in to hear you on The X and anyone else who got to know you like I did.
Wherever you are now, kick back, pour yourself a glass of Jack Daniels and root the Penguins onto a third-straight Stanley Cup.