Questions were abound when the Las Vegas Golden Knights started their inaugural season. Could Las Vegas support a professional team? Expected to be mediocre as most expansion teams are, would a fan base stick with the band of misfits throughout a long and arduous NHL season? A 500-1 shot to win the Stanley Cup at the start of the season, could this self-appointed “Golden Misfits” even win 15-20 games let alone make the playoffs?
The answers are a resounding yes as the Las Vegas Golden Knights punched their ticket to Lord Stanley’s annual battle with a 2-1 win over the favorite Winnipeg Jets. The Golden Knights become the third team in NHL history to reach the Stanley Cup final in their first season. The other two are the Toronto Arenas in 1918 and the St. Louis Blues in 1968.
A goalie with something to prove and a stellar defense in front of him
The Golden Knights defenseman have been other worldly during the teams Stanley Cup run. For teams that have played at least 10 games in the 2018 playoffs, Las Vegas is has allowed the least amount of goals. And while Las Vegas is an unreal atmosphere to play, the Golden Knights have enjoyed the road winning 6 out of 8 games away from T-Mobile Arena.
After a stellar career in Pittsburgh including 3 Stanley cups in 2009, 2016, and 2017 respectively, Marc-Andre Fleury finds himself in back in the Stanly Cup finals for the third year in a row. After being left available by the Penguins at the end of the 2017 season, Fleury was drafted by the Golden Knights and the fit has been perfect.
Allowing 2 or fewer goals in 10 of Las Vegas’s 15 playoff games, Fleury is playing like a man on a mission. While he hasn’t admitted it publicly, Fleury seems out to make the Penguins pay for letting him go in favor of the younger goalie Matt Murray.
While Fleury has been stellar in net, his success is greatly helped by the defense being played in from of him. The Golden Knights defenseman have kept the front of the net clear to give Fleury a clear view of the puck and an opportunity for an easier save.
Coach Gerald Gallant’s strategy of a younger, well-conditioned defense has shown as the offense of the opponents has been out skated and had to adjust line changes on the fly which has spelled disaster for the Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks, and the Winnipeg Jets.
Unbelievable home ice advantage
The home experience for the players and fans is what would be expected from a Las Vegas sports team. T-Mobile arena boasts a pre-game full of lasers, a huge smoking knight helmet slowly coming from the rafters, and even Wayne Newton cranking the horn to fire up the crowd before faceoff. By the time the puck is dropped, the crown is in a frenzy and the players feed off their energy and usually reward the fans with a quick rush to the opponents net often ending up with the games first goal.
Expectations Surpassed by Everyone Except Team
Owner Bill Foley prefaced the 2018 season with the following statement. “We don’t have high expectations for this year. We’re going to be competitive. If we’re going to lose a game, we’d like to lose by a goal or two, not lose by five or six. We don’t want to be a walkover team. We want to be competitive, we want to be entertaining on the ice, we want to score some goals.”
To say Mr. Foley is pleasantly surprised and elated by where his team is now would be an understatement.
Even with the series tied at 1-1, the Golden Knights know they are the underdog in the Stanley Cup Finals against the Washington Capitals. The underdog role has fit them well so far, and they see no reason the success won’t continue.
Who is going to bet against the “Golden Misfits”? Not this guy.