The Vegas Golden Knights have shaken the hockey world again.
When they made their roster in the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft, who would have thought they would make the third round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs three times in their first four seasons?
When they lost the Colorado Avalanche’s first two games in the second round of the Stanley Cup this season, who would have thought they would win the best-of-7 series in six?
Well, they did it.
They knocked out the Avalanche with a 6-3 win in Game 6 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Thursday and will play the Montreal Canadiens in the Stanley Cup Semifinals starting Monday at home.
“This is hard,” said Vegas coach Peter DeBoer. “It’s hard to make the playoffs in this league. It’s hard to win a series. So what these guys have achieved here is really unreal.”
Vegas is the third team to make it to the NHL Finals four times in its first four seasons, but the first two teams to do so are beyond compare.
The New York Rangers did it in each of their first four seasons, from 1926 to 30, but the NHL had 10 teams and the playoffs were not as they are today.
The St. Louis Blues did in each of their first three, from 1967-70, but then the NHL expanded from six to 12 teams and the format guaranteed an expansion team would make it to the Stanley Cup finals.
The Golden Knights came in with more favorable rules than previous expansion teams. But they also competed at a time when the NHL had 30 established teams determined by parity and the playoffs were four best-of-7 rounds.
Vegas is the first NHL team to win seven rounds in its first four seasons.
“It’s pretty impressive,” said defender Alex Pietrangelo, who signed with the Golden Knights as an unrestricted free agent on October 12, 2020. “…It starts with ownership and it trickles down. Everyone here wants to win. We all share the same passion. It started here since Day One, and it continues the same.”
Video: Golden Knights beat Avs and advance to semifinals
This was arguably the most impressive series win in Golden Knights history.
Vegas gave Colorado the most points in the regular season (82), with the Avalanche winning the Presidents’ Trophy and No. 1 in the Honda West Division thanks to the tiebreaker (35-30).
But the Avalanche blew out the Golden Knights 7-1 in Game 1 and defeated them 3-2 in overtime in Game 2 in Colorado. At that point, they had won 11 and went back to the regular season.
They had Philipp Grubauer, voted Vezina Trophy finalist as the NHL’s Best Goalkeeper; Cale Makari, voted the Norris Trophy Finalist as the NHL’s Best Defender; and Nathan MacKinnon, voted Hart Trophy finalist as the NHL’s Most Valuable Player and the centerpiece of one of the NHL’s top lines.
“I don’t think there was anyone in the hockey world when we were 2-0 down who would do that” [have predicted] that we would finish this at home in six tonight,” DeBoer said. “That was real. There was a lot more talk about us being swept and shamed, and could we even win a competition?
“I think we have a group with a lot of pride, and they just blocked out the noise and got to work and fought and scraped and scratched and found a way.”
The Golden Knights returned to the T-Mobile Arena and for the first time since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, it was filled to the brim (17,504). They won 3-2 in Game 3 and 5-1 in Game 4.
“That changed the series for us, coming home in Game 3 to a sold-out rink,” captain Mark Stone said. “I really think the tide changed when we got them involved.”
Video: Ken Daneyko on the Golden Knights match six clincher
Vegas trailed 2-0 early in the third period of Game 5, but rallied for a 3-2 win in extra time. Game 6 was 3-3 until Pietrangelo scored the go-ahead goal late in the second period.
Stone called the series “a heavyweight tilt”.
“We have a lot of good leaders in this team, a lot of experience,” the goalkeeper said Marc-Andre Fleury, the face of the Golden Knights from the start. “Even when we were 2-0 down in the series, I didn’t see or feel any panic in our team, and I think it showed.”
And so, the NHL’s youngest active team now faces the oldest, the Canadiens.
It won’t be easy, if only because Carey Price is more than capable of frustrating Vegas like goalkeepers Thatcher Demko of the Vancouver Canucks, Anton Khudobin of the Dallas Stars and Cam Talbot of the Minnesota Wild have made the playoffs to varying degrees over the past two seasons.
But the Golden Knights will be the favorites, and it won’t come as a shock to anyone in the hockey world as they reach the Stanley Cup final for the second time in their four seasons, the first time since their inaugural 2017-18 season.
It wouldn’t surprise anyone if they win the cup.
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