Using the phrase “The house always wins” when referring to the Vegas Golden Knights, has become a tired expression. Gone are the days of October when the hockey world was waiting for Vegas to come back down to earth. The Vegas Golden Knights are three wins away from a Stanley Cup. Three wins away from that tired expression ringing true. So before we reach the end of this story, let us take a look back and ask: How did we even get here.
Victory Was Not the Plan from the Get-Go
Vegas’ plan from the beginning was to grow through entry drafts in years to come. The plan was never to build the best team possible for year one, it was to build the most competitive team they could, with their primary focus on securing draft picks for future years.
Early on it was thought that players like Marc-Andre Fleury and James Neal, may get flipped to other teams so Vegas could stockpile more picks. However the further into the season they went, Vegas never showed interest in trading those players. Early on General Manager George McPhee said the plan from day one was the same and just like any other team, “if we’re in the hunt we’re gonna stay in the hunt.” McPhee said. The Golden Knights General Manager had no plans to treat his role any differently just because it was the teams inaugural year.
Oh boy did they stay in the hunt after all. Once the initial surprise of Vegas’ success had become old news, another narrative began to pop up in sports headlines. When is the other shoe gonna drop? It seemed everyone had their own idea of when Vegas’ gravy train would come to an end.
*Warning* Intense Patting on the Black Ahead
If you’ll allow me to write even more casually for a second here, I’ll elaborate on my own prediction I had for Vegas. I wrote an article in early December proclaiming that I believed Vegas would make the playoffs. At the time I definitely wasn’t alone in that belief, however, I wasn’t in the majority either. Vegas was 2nd in the Pacific but still had more than half of the season to go. Looking back with 20/20 hindsight, it seems like a no-brainer, however, we were still months away from many people having to eat their words.
Could They Even Handle Playoff Hockey?
As the season neared its end, those who doubted Vegas, had one last straw to grasp at: “They wouldn’t be able to sustain this in the playoffs”. The Vegas Golden Knights could clearly sustain themselves beyond their initial hot streak in October. The Golden Knights could also keep up the wins going into the Christmas break and they even stayed strong through the trade deadline. However, depending on who you ask, playoff hockey is at times talked about as if it’s a different sport altogether. There are varying viewpoints on how much the switch from the regular season to the playoffs, changes the game. The more extreme opinions make it sound as if these players have been playing badminton all year and now their worlds are about to be turned upside down because now we’re playing tennis.
Vegas, however, had no problem switching to tennis and should have silenced many remaining naysayers after their first-round sweep of the L.A. Kings. Looking at Vegas’ playoff run up to this point, and back further to their regular season, it seems as though Vegas started their playoff mode in October.
Their Playoffs so far
The Golden Knights made quick work of the Kings, sweeping LA despite Jonathan Quick standing on his head and forcing every game to be decided by one goal. Quick had the third highest save percentage out of all playoff goalies at the time his series ended. His save percentage was only beaten by Matt Murray and of course the Golden Knights’ Marc-Andre Fleury.
The San Jose Sharks posed more of a challenge to Vegas in round-two, pushing the series to six games. However, as the Golden Knights just came out of a series against a stronger goalie in Jonathan Quick, Martian Jones was little trouble for the Golden Knights. In game one alone the Golden Knights walked away with a 7-0 victory over the Sharks.
On paper, Winnipeg was their toughest challenge yet. Of the four teams left, including Washington and Tampa Bay out east, The Jets were favorites to win it all. The Jets seemingly had every box ticked. They may have had it easy in round one against the Wild, but in the eyes of many, after facing down the Predators in round two, the Jets had already earned their ticket to the Final.
In true Vegas fashion, however, the team upended expectations and toppled Winnipeg in five games. The drive of Patrick Laine and the might of Dustin Byfuglien wasn’t enough to shake off the Golden Knights. Although the Jets didn’t flop by any means, the games were close and Fleury stood on his head more than once in key moments for his team. The beautiful, yet tragic thing about the game of Hockey is that a couple bounces here or there, can be all it takes to make the difference in a series. For Vegas, the difference got split in their favor.
So Can They Do It?
Vegas clinched game one of the Stanley Cup Final against the Washington Capitals 6-4. Both clubs had moments where they looked like the team who deserved to win it all. Vegas was the favorite going into the series and after game one they remained the favorite going into game two. Game two ended in a 3-2 Capitals victory, and again the outing was close from beginning to end. Braden Holtby made an incredible stop near the end of the game, saving the contest for his team.
With the Stanley Cup Final tied one game apiece, at this point, no one should be asking if the Vegas Golden Knights have what it takes to win the Stanley Cup, the only question should be: what’s stopping them? Although Alex Ovechkin and his Capitals aren’t a brand new team like Vegas, they aren’t used to making it far in the playoffs either. Ovechkin has never made it to the finals with the Capitals, who are the one and only NHL team on his resume. Ovechkin’s Capitals finally went the distance during a year when it was thought they wouldn’t make it past the first round and that they weren’t as good as the standings made them out to be. However, as fate would have it, they made it to the second round and then the third round and now the finals. Both the Capitals and the Golden Knights earned their way to this stage when many said they couldn’t.
Okay So, Washington or Vegas?
There can be arguments made for both teams victory. With Washington being the underdogs in the series, wouldn’t it be fitting for them to win in the end of this underdog season? Or will Vegas cap off a perfect run by lifting Lord Stanley’s mug? Only one thing is truly clear, Vegas has made a lot of people eat their words this season, and so have the Capitals during the Playoffs. No matter who comes out on top, many people will be feasting on their previous made ice-cold takes, just in time for summer.