It’s been a storybook season for Las Vegas’ first major professional sports team. The year started with an emotional home opener on October 10, when victims of the October 1 shooting and first responders were honored at T-Mobile Arena, and Golden Knights’ defenseman Deryk Engelland delivered an unforgettable speech ending in, “We are Vegas strong.” After 82 games of theatrical come-from-behind wins, heartbreaking losses and breathtaking overtime thrillers, Vegas’ season will now culminate in an improbable appearance in the Stanley Cup playoffs. No modern-day expansion team had advanced to the NHL playoffs in its first season.
The postseason is special in every sport, and the NHL playoffs might be the most epic of them all. “It’s a battle,” says Golden Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who has made it to four Stanley Cup Finals and won three of them with the Pittsburgh Penguins. “It’s the first to four wins in seven games, so you play the same guys over and over, and it can be a grind sometimes. Every play matters and it’s intense hockey. Everyone puts everything they have on the line.”
It takes 16 wins to hoist the Stanley Cup, with games sometimes stretching into the early hours of the morning in sudden death overtime. A deep run can captivate a city, as it did Nashville last year, but no matter how long it lasts, it will be another special first for Las Vegas. “Our fans have been great all season long, loud every night, and it makes it fun to play here in this building,” Fleury says. “I think we will see—and feel—the playoff atmosphere.”
THREE THINGS VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS FANS ARE SICK OF HEARING
1. The Vegas Flu
The term refers to visiting teams not playing to their full ability after enjoying the city of Las Vegas the night prior to a game against the Golden Knights. It gained momentum early in the year when the Golden Knights won 18 of their first 21 contests at T-Mobile Arena. The team has shattered the myth by playing almost equally well away from Las Vegas. At press time they rank third in the NHL with a .628 winning percentage on the road.
2. The NHL gifted Vegas a team of all-stars
This couldn’t be further from the truth, as the only players with previous all-star appearances were James Neal and Marc-Andre Fleury with two apiece. The rest of the players taken at the expansion draft prompted stories like “Wow the Golden Knights Are Going to Be Bad” from Barry Petchesky of Deadspin, in which he said “This team is going to be bad, potentially historically so. They’ll be bad for a few years. They won’t even be enjoyable to watch once the novelty of new uniforms wears off, not unless you consider 4-1 losses enjoyable.”
USA Today predicted the Golden Knights to finish dead last in the NHL with only 67 points, and Dave Lozo of Vice Sports said, “There’s no point in avoiding the obvious: Following Wednesday’s expansion draft, the Vegas Golden Knights are about as bad as an NHL team can be. We knew the Knights would be bad, but no one believed the Knights would be this bad,” the day after the expansion draft.
To pretend the NHL unfairly gifted Vegas a Stanley Cup contender is revisionist history at its finest.
3. The Golden Knights won’t hold up in the playoffs
Unlike the other two, this one has yet to be proven one way or another, but there’s a lot of data suggesting the Golden Knights will perform well in the postseason. In the playoffs, there are no soft spots, as teams only play the stiffest competition,, and Vegas is 12-3-2 against the top seven teams in the NHL this season. Goaltending is extra important in the playoffs, and Fleury is as battle-tested as they come—and arguably playing the best hockey of his career.