Las Vegas finds its golden ticket
Las Vegas, bound for the Western final, is the feel-good story of the NHL.
If you placed a $100 bet on the expansion Vegas Golden Knights when they were listed at 500-1 odds to win the Stanley Cup, you’d have no confusion about whom to root for in the NHL playoffs.
The Golden Knights moved a step closer to this unlikely occurrence when they knocked off the San Jose Sharks 3-0 in Game 6 on May 6 to win their second-round series and earn a trip to the Western Conference final. They even caught a break Sunday when Nate Schmidt was awarded a goal that originally was missed by on-ice officials but was caught on replay.
Vegas will face the winner of the Winnipeg Jets-Nashville Predators series, which the Jets led 3-2 heading into Game 6 on May 7 in Winnipeg.
Even if you have no money riding on the Golden Knights, here are five reasons they are the story of the NHL this season.
Playing for the city: The team played its first regular-season home game while the city was grieving the loss of 58 victims of a mass shooting at a nearby outdoor concert venue. Players made efforts to help any way they could, including an opening-night ceremony that honored the victims and first responders, and a special bond was formed with the community.
Everybody loves an underdog: Expansion teams traditionally don’t make the playoffs, let alone the conference final. The Golden Knights captured the Pacific Division title with 51 victories and 109 points. Before Vegas paid a $500 million fee to join the NHL, the league’s last expansion teams — the Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild — had 71 and 68 points, respectively, in 2000-01. Rooting for the Golden Knights must be what is was like rooting for the Miracle Mets in 1969 or for Loyola-Chicago during this year’s NCAA tournament.
Golden misfits: The Golden Knights have played with a chip on their shoulder since their first game. They rally around the idea that each player was considered expendable by his former team, exposed in the expansion draft or moved in a trade. Vegas general manager George McPhee and coach Gerard Gallant had been fired from their previous teams. The Golden Knights play every game as if they have something to prove.
Marc-Andre Fleury’s popularity: The acrobatic goalie, one of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ most popular players, now holds that status leaguewide. His jersey sales rank among the NHL’s top sellers. Fleury, who made 28 saves May 6 for his fourth shutout of the playoffs, is enjoying an exceptional season and might have been a finalist for the Vezina Trophy had he not missed nearly two months with an injury. He’s a marketer’s dream as a likable star who connects with the public.
Vegas-style entertainment: Attending a Vegas game is like nothing you’ve seen before. It’s theater as much as it is sports. A castle sits above one section. Skits and cheers are unique. Enthusiasm is authentic. On the ice, the Golden Knights are a speedy, skating team with a relentless pursuit of puck. In their first season, they are hard to play against and mesmerizing to watch. Even the team Twitter account is clever and glib.
The Golden Knights’ Marc-Andre Fleury, receiving congratulations from the Sharks’ Aaron Dell, posted his fourth shutout of this year’s playoffs May 6.