The improbable run of the Vegas Golden Knights reached yet another level on Sunday, as the NHL’s newest expansion team defeated the Winnipeg Jets 2-1 to win the Western Conference finals in five games and move on to the Stanley Cup Final.
The Golden Knights now await either the Tampa Bay Lightning or Washington Capitals. Tampa Bay currently leads the Eastern Conference finals 3-2, with Game 6 scheduled for Monday night in Washington.
If Tampa Bay wins, the Lightning will maintain home-ice advantage in the Stanley Cup finals. But if Washington ends up winning, then the Golden Knights will hold the home-team edge.
Historic Season Continues
Vegas has already accomplished a number of historic firsts this season. The 109 points they collected shattered the record for the most points by an expansion franchise, and they became the first modern expansion franchise in any of the four major American sports to win their division in their first season.
But while all of those achievements were notable, none of them compare to winning the Western Conference and playing for the Stanley Cup.
“Al those records and everything, it doesn’t mean anything if you’re not the last team standing,” Golden Knights center Jonathan Marchessault said after Sunday’s game. “I think we have a lot of gas left.”
Game 5 was tied 1-1 after the first period. The Golden Knights took the lead on a Ryan Reaves goal with 6:39 remaining in the second period. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury made sure that lead held up, stopping 31 of 32 shots in order to preserve the win.
The celebration may have been a little sweeter had the Golden Knights managed to finish off the series in Las Vegas. But the team still enjoyed their time with the Campbell Bowl — the trophy given each year to the Western Conference champion – and made sure to talk about the special relationship that had developed between the team and their home city following the mass shooting that took place just days before the Golden Knights played their first regular season game.
“After October 1, those first games…you want to play for the city, the people that were affected by it,” defenseman Deryk Engeland said during the postgame celebrations. “To make this run, win this series, it’s awesome for us, but it all comes back to the city and the people affected by that.”
From Misfits to Favorites
The Golden Knights were longshots at the start of the season, to say the least. Some sportsbooks had them at 500/1 to win the Stanley Cup in their inaugural year. But while Vegas knew they were an afterthought coming into the season, the team decided to embrace that identity and turn it into a source of motivation.
“Everyone on this team has something to prove,” Reaves said after the game. “We call ourselves ‘The Golden Misfits’ for a reason. We’re doing a good job of proving everybody wrong.”
Now just four games away from winning the Stanley Cup, nobody considers the Golden Knights a bunch of misfits anymore. At most sportsbooks, the team is now about even money to become the Stanley Cup Champions this year, with Ladbrokes listing them at 21/20 odds. That’s just ahead of the Lightning, (11/10) with the Capitals (15/2) far behind the two favorites.