The Capitals have a lot to celebrate, but wanted to acknowledge their competitors first.
The Stanley Cup champions took out a full page in the Las Vegas Review-Journal to congratulate the Golden Knights on a competitive run in the championship series and a historic first season in the league.
“Congratulations to the Vegas Golden Knights on the most successful inaugural season in the history of professional sports,” the ad read. “World class ownership, front office, coaching staff and people. A magnificent team of talented, hard-working players and stars. A fantastic venue filled with passionate, loud and proud fans.
“It was an honor to compete against you in the Stanley Cup Final. We are truly VEGAS STRONG.”
The Washington Capitals are up 3-1 in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final, but the Vegas Golden Knights are back home at T-Mobile Arena for Game 5. We checked in with our panel to answer the biggest questions — and get their pick on the game.
The Knights must ______ to win Game 5.
Greg Wyshynski, senior hockey writer: Create an ounce of doubt in the minds of the Capitals. You can count on one hand the number of times it felt like the Capitals didn’t have control of this series since Game 2. In previous rounds, the Golden Knights stunned their opponents with speed and scoring and, most importantly, a hole from which those opponents had to dig. In 10 of their 15 games preceding the Stanley Cup Final, the Knights held a lead after two periods. They won each time. They didn’t lead entering the third in this series’ first four games. “When we’re playing our game, we’re putting doubt in other teams’ minds,” defenseman Shea Theodore said. Considering the Capitals’ history with 3-1 playoff leads, that’s essential.
Emily Kaplan, national hockey reporter: Tighten up on defense and clog shooting lanes. Most lopsided stat from the Final: In the Capitals’ three wins, they have a 68-25 advantage in blocked shots. Other than that, the Golden Knights should start the game exactly as they did in Game 4, buzzing with energy. Several Vegas players said Game 4 was their best performance of the series. (I agree.) Keep at it, and don’t get discouraged — and pray that the hockey gods even out the bounces.
Chris Peters, hockey prospects writer: Dictate the pace of the game and own the puck more consistently. The Golden Knights have had stretches, even during the past few games, when they looked like the better team. If they can use their speed to keep the pressure on Washington’s blue line, test Braden Holtby and keep the puck at the other end of the ice as much as possible, they’re going to give themselves a chance. This team has thrived on everyone’s contributions, and it will need every last guy playing an attacking brand of hockey that made it one of the NHL’s best stories in years.
Victoria Matiash, fantasy hockey analyst: Erupt with a first-period effort similar to what we saw in Game 4. They were the better team through 20 minutes. Fourteen times out of 15, James Neal doesn’t miss that open net — which would set an entirely different tone for the rest of the period — and the Knights would head back to the dressing up one or more instead of down 3-0.
Ben Arledge, Insider NHL editor: Attack early and often. The crowd is the Knights’ best asset in Game 5, and you can’t lose it with a sluggish start. If Vegas can pot one in the opening minutes and set the tone, it’ll be in good shape. Start flat and let Washington play its game, though, and it will be a long night. From the puck drop, the Knights need to be the better team. Even if the game starts 30 minutes later than expected again so Panic! at the Disco can play a full set, the Golden Knights can’t afford to show up late.
What was the turning point for the Capitals’ season?
Wyshynski: The most important game of the Capitals’ season, and perhaps the Alex Ovechkin era up until this point, was Game 6 of the second round, when they eliminated the Pittsburgh Penguins. Please recall that this was the game in which they were without center Nicklas Backstrom and winger Andre Burakovsky to injury, and Tom Wilson to suspension. A Game 7 seemed inevitable. Instead, the Capitals got a goal created by Alex Chiasson and Nathan Walker, neither of whom have seen a second of ice time in the Final, and the game winner created by Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov. The unburdening of the weight of previous playoff failures — the Capitals defeated the Penguins for just the second time in 11 series in franchise history — has propelled them to one win from the Cup.
Kaplan: What’s different about this team — as opposed to the many excellent Alex Ovechkin-led teams over the past 13 years — is its success in the playoffs. So I have to point to Game 3 of the first round. Down 2-0 in the series — after squandering regulation leads to lose in overtime — Washington finally got the bounce it needed in the form of an ugly double-overtime goal. This gave the Capitals the confidence to thwart their biggest foes, the Penguins, in the second round, and the rest is — they hope — history.
Peters: I’m going with the same series as Emily, but I’m going to go with the emphatic close-out in Game 6 against the Blue Jackets. With the Caps, no one is comfortable until a series is over. In that game, Holtby got a lot of work as the Blue Jackets just kept pouring it on, finishing with 38 shots on goal. Each time Columbus seemed to have life, the Capitals would snatch it away. That game was eye-opening and showed that this team could close, even if it was still a little hard to believe given the club’s recent postseason history.
Matiash: Wedging myself between Emily and Chris, I felt the tide truly turn in the Capitals’ favor in Game 4 against the Blue Jackets. After nailing a crucial overtime win in Game 3 to draw back into the series, Washington left little to question with a dominating 4-1 victory in Game 4. Ovechkin was terrific. Kuznetsov racked up four points. Holtby was nearly impenetrable. Although the series was now tied 2-2, there was already a sense of looking forward to the next round, and — Penguins or no Penguins — beyond.
A year ago, this team didn’t even have a team, and now this team will have a chance to win sport’s toughest trophy.
This is why the NHL rocks. Anything can happen. Anything just did.
By beating the Jets 2-1 in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals on Sunday, Vegas continued to beat the odds. The Knights were a 500-1 shot last October. The Knights just became the first team to earn a spot in the championship round.
Top that, NBA. Top that, any major U.S. sports league. Talk about a miracle on ice. This championship possibility would be all the rage if the NHL mattered in the U.S. If only Tim Tebow skated. But no matter. This is historic. An expansion team outside of an all-expansion setup making the championship round just doesn’t happen, except in an NHL known for regularly scheduled upsets.
The NHL is the anti-NBA, and thank goodness for that. The NBA is as predictable as it gets. The NBA drags you through seven months that don’t mean anything because it was always going to be Warriors-Rockets and Cavaliers-Celtics, and here we are and there they are. Is that what you want?
I’ll take drama. I’ll take the unexpected. I’ll take the inexplicable and the insane. The cherished randomness of the NHL demands that you watch. Sports charm us with moments we’ve never witnessed. This is that. This one of the big reasons we watch.
Some people, however, believe the Knights are living out one of the more embarrassing stories in sports history because the Knights have made it look easy this season and because their success indicts the NHL’s diluted product borne of a hard salary cap and soft-headed GMs.
If it was that easy to win 51 games, then the Blackhawks would’ve done it. If the league was that diluted, then the Hawks should swap leagues with the Regina Pats. The more you hear people rip the league for such a spectacle, the more you diminish whatever Hawks dynasty talk you spewed.
This isn’t embarrassment. It’s history. Embarrassment is demanding a new owner fork over $500 million and then sticking the new franchise with a last-place team for five years. The NHL didn’t hose the new guy. The reward for the league and the new owner is one of the biggest and best stories in sports history.
The NHL expansion draft rules were more generous than previously seen, but still, other teams were allowed to protect at least eight skaters (including all players with no-movement clauses), all players with less than three years’ pro experience, and their No. 1 goalie. The Knights managed to acquire speed and talent thanks to general manager George McPhee’s deft handling of the expansion draft. And these pieces of ore and other mixed metals were alchemized into Golden Knights by coach Gerard Gallant, who had been fired by the Panthers and so had a lot in common with his players.
The Knights finished fifth in goals per game and eighth in goals-against per game. Their goal differential of plus-44 was sixth-best in the NHL. That’s playing a team game all over the ice, a point underscored when you realize the Knights went through five goalies this season because of injuries, including one netminder they had to recall from juniors.
In winning the Pacific Division with a 51-24-7 record, the Knights finished 29-10-2 at home, the best record in the Western Conference and second-best in the league. It would appear NHL players didn’t know how to act during a night in Las Vegas. What happens in Vegas stays in the loss column. Stick tap for the Knights’ discipline and smarts on and off the ice.
And for everyone who believes they are riding nothing but home-casino advantage, there’s this: In sweeping the Kings in the first round, eliminating the Sharks in six games in the second and wiping out the Jets in five in the conference finals, the Knights clinched all three series on the road. What happens in Vegas also happens everywhere else.
And now the Knights might get their names etched on the venerable Stanley Cup. It sounds crazy, but it’s as real as four more wins.
Such are the extraordinary powers of Vegas goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury that he didn’t even have to be on the ice to earn an assist.
A scoring review after his spectacular 33-save performance against the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday confirmed he deserved the second assist on the empty-net goal by Jonathan Marchessault that gave the Golden Knights the upper hand in the Western Conference final. Fleury was surprised to hear he had gotten the assist. His teammates aren’t surprised by any of his feats. “He does it all,” forward David Perron said.
Fleury, 33, did the Pittsburgh Penguins an enormous favor last season when he accepted their request that he waive his no-move clause so they wouldn’t have to protect him in the expansion draft that stocked Vegas’ roster and could keep younger, salary cap-friendly Matt Murray. The Golden Knights got instant credibility when they claimed Fleury, a three-time Stanley Cup champion. They also got a man who taps his goalposts and thanks them in his native French and in English when they stop pucks, a man who learned to use humor to defuse white-knuckle situations.
“I think that’s the key to making sure you don’t tense up at the wrong moment,” said Perron, who is expected to return Friday after missing two games because of an illness. “You make sure you keep playing your game, and that’s what he does. At the end of the day when he lost to Matt last year because he’s a younger goalie and the salary cap and all that stuff, he wants to prove himself. Every single day he’s out there he’s having fun.”
During the Golden Knights’ unexpected playoff journey, Fleury has joined fans in doing the wave and, on Wednesday, he slyly tickled the ear of Winnipeg forward Blake Wheeler when players began pushing and shoving in front of his goal crease. “I’d be having fun too if I was up 2-1 in the series,” Winnipeg forward Adam Lowry said as the teams prepared for Game 4 on Friday at T-Mobile Arena.
The Golden Knights hold that lead because Fleury has backed up his humor with seriously clutch efforts and is 10-3 with a 1.70 goals-against average, .945 save percentage, and a playoff-leading four shutouts. Among his most impressive work were a toe save and a scrambling body block in quick succession against Winnipeg forward Mark Scheifele in the third period Wednesday while protecting a one-goal lead. Asked where he ranked those stops among all the timely saves he has made during his career, he grinned in embarrassment.
“I don’t remember all my saves,” he said.
But his teammates will remember those two saves for a while. “I was on the bench. I was freaking out. I couldn’t believe they didn’t score, honestly,” said forward Alex Tuch, who scored Vegas’ third goal, at 8:13 of the second period, on a pass from James Neal. “It was an unbelievable couple of saves there. He kept us in the game the entire time. He was the key to our success.”
Kevin Allen, USA TODAY Sports Published 1:24 p.m. ET May 17, 2018
LAS VEGAS — Vegas Golden Knights general manager George McPhee was named a finalist for the NHL’s GM of the year and we don’t need Las Vegas bookmakers to tell us he’s a prohibitive favorite to win the award.
The man has built the best expansion team in professional sports history. The Golden Knights are two wins short of qualifying for the Stanley Cup Final heading into Friday’s Game 4 at T-Mobile Arena (8 p.m, ET, NBC Sports Network). They lead the Winnipeg Jets 2-1 in their Western Conference final series.
The always-gracious McPhee will want to thank those who helped him get here, so we’ve tried to be helpful by filling out “Thank You” cards for him:
Dear Marc-Andre Fleury: Many thanks for your decision to waive your no-trade clause with the Pittsburgh Penguins to allow us to select you in the expansion draft. We wouldn’t be where we are without your goaltending and your presence in the dressing room. Your goaltending has been out of this world and your willingness to promote our team and the game in Las Vegas has helped us grow strong roots in the community. People said you were a classy gentleman and the perfect teammate, but you can’t fully appreciate those traits until you see them up close and personal as we have.
Dear Vegas owner Bill Foley: Thanks for everything, especially the “Golden Knights” nickname and for saying we could make the playoffs in three years and win the Stanley Cup in six. We’re not afraid of high expectations in Vegas.
Dear NHL commissioner Gary Bettman: Thanks for signing off on a more generous player dispersal system for the expansion draft. This should be a model for future expansion in all sports. When you see how this has helped establish our team in Las Vegas, you wonder why we were so hard on past expansion teams. When McDonald’s Corporation awards a new franchise, the company doesn’t insist that it launch with inferior items on the menu. Why did sports leagues do that for so many years?
Dear Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon: Should probably send you a box of chocolates along with this ‘”thank you” for the sweet deal you gave us on Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith. Landing Marchessault to take Smith’s contract off your hands gave us two-thirds of our top line. Forever grateful.
Dear NFL: Thanks for moving slowly on coming to Las Vegas because we’ve been the first plant our flag and win over this incredibly passionate fan base. It’s laughable now that some people believed pro sports wouldn’t work here. Our fan base is electrifying. If you want to know how to ignite them, we can help.
Dear Florida Panthers: Thanks to whoever made the final decision to fire Gerard “Turk” Gallant as coach. (Dale Tallon didn’t have final say at the time). All that matters is Turk – no one calls him Gerard – was available to be our coach. He’s perfect to lead our band of Golden Misfits. He relates to players and he understands the game at a DNA level.
Dear Expendables: Thanks to all of my players who came in with the attitude that their former teams were wrong to make them available to us. William Karlsson went from six goals for the Columbus Blue Jackets to 43 for us. Erik Haula went from 15 goals for the Minnesota Wild to 29. Nate Schmidt went from third-pairing defenseman in Washington to a top defenseman for us.
Dear former Minnesota Wild GM Chuck Fletcher: Sorry you had so many skilled players on your roster that you couldn’t protect them all. You were in a difficult position that forced you to give us two quality players (Haula and Alex Tuch) to protect players such as Mathew Dumba and Marco Scandella, etc. P.S. We think Tuch is going to be a force for us.
It’s the one where he’ll be wearing a gold, black and steel gray uniform, perhaps a helmet perched on his head as he settles in front of his vast TV.
This is where he’ll be watching his beloved Vegas Golden Knights hockey team play Game 3 of their Stanley Cup Western Conference finals at T-Mobile Arena against the Winnipeg Jets, the best-of-seven series tied at 1-1, with Harper wondering how much more his heart can take it.
“I get more nervous watching them than anything I’ve ever done in my life,’’ Harper tells USA TODAY Sports, “even playing ball. I don’t get nervous watching my team or when I play at all. I really don’t.
“But when I’m watching them, I get so nervous. I’ll sit on the couch with my wife, going nuts.
The Golden Knights, vying to become the first expansion team in a major sport to win a championship in its inaugural season, and already the first hockey team to reach the playoffs in its first year in nearly 40 years, are just three victories shy of going where nobody in their right mind believed they would reach.
Yes, the Stanley Cup Finals.
Forget the 1980 U.S. Olympic Team; maybe the Golden Knights are the unlikeliest miracle on ice.
No one gave them a prayer this season – an NHL-worst 500-to-1 longshot to win the Stanley Cup – except for this certain 25-year-old who happens to be one of the greatest baseball players in the world, and will soon become rich enough to buy his own casino.
“I’m really not surprised,’’ Harper says. “They’re a great team. There’s a lot of guys on that team that have chips on their shoulders because they got let go on other teams they were playing on.
“Look at us. We’ve got one of the best goalies of all-time in our net in (Marc-Andre) Fleury. He was the leader of that team that won three Stanley Cups in Pittsburgh. If we didn’t have a goalie on our team like that, it would definitely be tough. (Wild Bill) Karlsson is having one of the best years of his career. He has six goals in Columbus last year and now has 43 for us.
“We get (Jonathan) Marchessault from the Panthers, and look at the way he’s been playing. Reilly Smith. That whole front line has been unbelievable. Deryk Engelland and Schmidty (Nate Schmidt) coming from the Caps. James Neal, who was with Pittsburgh and Nashville.
“They’re all just such a great group of guys. Just a bunch of really cool dudes who are fast and quick and put the puck into the net. I could go on and on.’’
The Golden Knights have taken Las Vegas by storm, and, oh, can you tell who has caught hockey fever?
Harper and his wife, Kayla, don’t even have kids yet, but Harper already has chosen the sport he wants them to play.
“I’ve fallen in love with hockey,’’ Harper says. “When we have kids, I want them to play hockey. How awesome would that be? I can’t imagine being on the ice and playing such a cool sport.’’
Harper has become Barry Melrose without the colorful high-fashion outfits, soaking up as much hockey knowledge as he can these days. Do you know any other professional athlete who attended virtually every Golden Knights home game during the winter, wearing their jerseys at every opportunity, and occasionally wearing a helmet watching them on his living room couch?
Do you know any other ballplayer who drops in on their practices, sends dozens of autographed bats with the Golden Knights logo to their locker room, drops the puck against the Washington Caps wearing an Alex Tuch jersey, and is already tentatively planning to see them if they’re playing in the Stanley Cup Finals on a May 24 off day?
“It’s the first team I really had a passion rooting for,’’ says Harper, born and raised in Las Vegas, and, yes, blessed with the ability to ice skate. “Growing up, I didn’t really root for many teams. I always liked the Lakers. Liked Dallas in football.
“But those are all the winning teams. Even baseball, I’d get home and watch the Braves on Turner, or the Cubs on WGN, right after “Full House’’ and “Family Matters.’’
“But now, I can’t get enough of them. I watch them religiously. I love hockey.’’
Who’d ever have imagined that Las Vegas would become a hockey town, with every game sold out? Really, it’s the gateway to the gambling capital of the USA turning into a sports mecca.
Collect $500 million from a rich Las Vegas businessman in exchange for the first new NHL expansion franchise in 17 years.
Divide that money between the NHL’s 30 existing clubs, for a cool cash injection of $16.667 million per team.
Surrender one player to the new franchise in an expansion draft. For that kind of money, general manager George McPhee and his team could even have access to mid-level players. What could possibly be the harm?
We all had a good chuckle when Vegas Golden Knights owner Bill Foley said in 2015 that he wanted to see his team make the playoffs by Year 3 and win a Stanley Cup by Year 8.
Listening to Bill Foley talk hockey in Las Vegas. Says playoffs in 3 yrs, Stanley Cup in 8. Positive man.
He later revised that projection to a Cup in six years. Turns out, that still may have been conservative.
You know the story by now: the Golden Knights won their division, made the playoffs and swept the Los Angeles Kings in their first-round series. On Sunday, they reached the Western Conference Final after recording their fourth shutout win of the playoffs and eliminating the San Jose Sharks.
The favored hashtag now running beside #VegasStrong is #CupIn1.
The Golden Knights’ success is so unprecedented, it’s still difficult to understand how the team can actually be this good. It’s supposed to take years to build a Stanley Cup contender — nurturing top prospects after they’re acquired in the draft, retaining good players with lucrative long-term contracts and supplementing rosters with free agents. Successful teams are supposed to build winning cultures over many years, with veteran leadership groups that keep the dressing room united. History matters.
Nobody argued that McPhee got off to a good start when he anchored the Golden Knights’ roster with three-time Stanley Cup-winning goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury from the Pittsburgh Penguins. But Vegas charted its course for the playoffs without him, going 16-8-1 during the 25-game stretch between October and December where Fleury was sidelined with a concussion.
Dan Bouchard can appreciate, better than most, the Miracle in the Desert.
He was a goalie for the expansion Atlanta Flames back in the 1970s, so he knows how difficult it is to build a competitive team from scratch.
“It’s astonishing what they’ve done in Vegas,” said Bouchard, who still lives in the Atlanta area, when reached by phone this week. “I think it’s the greatest thing to happen to hockey since the Miracle on Ice,” he added, referring to the seminal U.S. upset of the mighty Soviet Union at the 1980 Olympics. “It’s that good.”
Indeed, Vegas has set a new norm for expansion teams in all sports. No longer will it be acceptable to enter a league with a squad full of dregs and take your lumps for a few years, all while fans willingly pay big-league prices to watch an inferior product.
The Golden Knights have come up with a stunning new template for how this expansion thing can be done.
They romped to the Pacific Division title with 51 wins. In the opening round of the playoffs, they finished off the Los Angeles Kings in four straight games , casting aside a franchise that has a pair of Stanley Cup titles this decade while becoming the first expansion team in NHL history to sweep a postseason series in its debut year.
Imagine how storied franchises in Montreal and Detroit and Edmonton must be feeling right about now.
They didn’t even make the playoffs.
From Bouchard’s perspective, it’s all good. Vegas’ success right out of the starting gate will make everyone raise their game in the years to come.
“This will wake up the teams that are sitting on $90 million budgets and not doing anything,” he said. “People will say, ‘If Vegas can do it, we can do it.’ That’s a paradigm shift in the game.”
When one considers how NHL expansion teams have fared over the years, the Vegas story becomes even more compelling.
The Golden Knights are the first new team in the NHL’s modern era to have a winning record in their inaugural season, a period that began in 1967 and encompasses 26 new franchises (including one, the ill-fated California Seals, who are no longer around).
Only six other first-year teams have made the playoffs — and that includes four that were assured of postseason berths in the landmark 1967 expansion. You see, when the NHL finally broke out of its Original Six format, doubling in size to a dozen teams, it placed all the new franchises in the same division, with the top four getting postseason berths even with sub-.500 records.
Until the Golden Knights came along, the Florida Panthers were the gold standard for NHL expansion. They finished one game below .500 in their first season (1993-94) and missed the playoffs by a single point. In Year 3, they had their first winning record and made it all the way to the Stanley Cup final, though they were swept by the Colorado Avalanche.
That remains the closest the Panthers have come to winning a title.
In Sin City, the wait for a championship figures to be much shorter. Heck, the Golden Knights might do it this year.
They’re 12 wins away from hoisting the Stanley Cup in a city that has always had a soft spot for long shots.
“We’re still a few wins away from this being a great story,” said goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, a key contributor to the Golden Knights success.
Even now, it seems like a bit of dream to coach Gerard Gallant, who thankfully will be remembered for something other than getting left at the curb to hail his own cab after being fired by the Panthers.
“When this all started in October, we just wanted to compete,” Gallant said. “Now we’re going to the second round of the playoffs. It’s unreal.”
For sure, the Golden Knights wound up with a much more talented roster than most expansion teams — partly through astute planning, partly through getting access to better players as a reward for doling out a staggering $500 million expansion fee, which was a more than six-fold increase over the $80 million required of Minnesota and Columbus to enter the league in 2000.
The expansion draft netted a top-line goalie in Fleury, who helped Pittsburgh win three Stanley Cups; center Jonathan Marchessault, a 30-goal scorer in Florida who was surprisingly left exposed by the Panthers; and winger James Neal, who had scored more than 20 goals in all nine of his NHL seasons. It also provided a solid group of defensemen: Colin Miller, Nate Schmidt, Deryk Engelland and Brayden McNabb.
In addition, the Golden Knights wisely nabbed young Swedish center William Karlsson, who hadn’t done much in Columbus but became Vegas’ leading scorer with 43 goals and 35 assists.
“They’ve got some top centers. They’ve got some real good defense. They’ve got good goaltending,” Bouchard observed. “They went right down the middle. That’s how the built it. Then they complemented it with the fastest guys they could get their hands on. They went for speed.”
In only a matter of four games, less than a week, the Vegas Golden Knights have gone from one of the best stories in hockey history to one of the best bets to hoist the Stanley Cup.
The Golden Knights not only opened as the favorites in their second-round matchup against the San Jose Sharks, but they are now officially championship contenders. According to bookmakers, the Knights currently have the second-best odds of winning the Stanley Cup (4/1), just behind the Nashville Predators (7/2).
The expansion team has come a long way since opening the season as a 200-to-1 longshot to win hockey’s biggest prize.
After sweeping the Ducks in Round 1, the Knights continue calibrate everyone’s expectations. They’re now even bigger favorites in the second round than they were in the first round of the playoffs. Vegas opens as -140 favorites to win the series against San Jose, better than their odds of -135 against Anaheim in the opening round.
Sin City vs. Silicon Valley
It’s a curious betting line for the series considering that San Jose not only had a better regular season than the team Vegas just eliminated, but the Sharks also looked equally dominant in a first-round sweep where they limited the Ducks to just four goals.
The Golden Knights do have home-ice advantage in the series, however, and they collected seven of a possible eight points in the regular season, posting 3-0-1 mark against the Sharks.
Surprises have become the norm for the Golden Knights, and the betting public wants a piece. The Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook has seen an unprecedented amount of betting on hockey, with the action on the Golden Knights approaching NFL-like levels at times.
LAS VEGAS — Late in the third period of the Vegas Golden Knights‘ first Stanley Cup playoff game, a message flashed on the video board at T-Mobile Arena asking fans to make noise depending on who they were.
Make noise if you’re male … make noise if you’re female. Make noise if you’re married … make noise if you’re single.
The roars from the crowd were fairly even for both — until it got to the last one.
Make noise if you’re a tourist … make noise if you’re a local.
There is perhaps no greater distinction for the residents of this city than “tourist or local.” After all, no city is as identified by its hotels and tourists as Las Vegas. Think of all the great Las Vegas-centric movies you have ever seen. From “The Hangover” to “Ocean’s Eleven,” there is a good chance the stars of the film were out-of-towners making bad decisions in Sin City. The sense from those who never venture off The Strip is that locals are simply comprised of card dealers and cocktail waitresses who buy their groceries at Caesars Palace and the Bellagio.
But Las Vegas is a real community with real locals and real families who live real lives far from the bright lights of South Las Vegas Blvd. — and that was on display during the Golden Knights’ first postseason win against the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday.
Only two teams won more games at home than Vegas during the regular season, but despite playing in front of sold-out home crowds all season, the stands were often filled with as many (or more) fans from the visiting teams. Weekend games against the likes of Detroit, Boston, Winnipeg, Vancouver and Calgary led to The Strip and surrounding casinos being flooded with jerseys of the opposing team.
That was not the case Wednesday when The Park Las Vegas — an outdoor area lined with trees, waterfalls and restaurants that sits between the New York-New York and Park MGM hotels — was crowded with Golden Knights fans walking the pathway that leads directly to T-Mobile Arena. Outside the arena, Toshiba Plaza, a two-acre area in front of T-Mobile Arena, was filled with more Golden Knights fans getting free Golden Knights tattoos, wearing black and gold face paint, taking pictures with Vegas showgirls and dancing to a concert from Grammy-nominated rapper Logic.
This was a local party surprisingly devoid of Los Angeles fans, which was by design. The Golden Knights enrolled all their full-season-ticket holders in a program that prohibits them from reselling their playoff tickets on the secondary market. In exchange for vowing not to resell, the fans will pay less for tickets than fans who opt out. The team is calling the program the “Knights Vow.”
“We’re a destination city. During the regular season, it was a big part of our event experience. But the Stanley Cup playoffs, that’s a different time,” Vegas team president Kerry Bubolz told ESPN. “We want to do what we can to support the hockey side of our organization.”
The result Wednesday was a crowd of 18,479, the largest in team history, and perhaps the largest collection of local fans the team has had all season at a home game. While the team admits it will make less money with this strategy, it is a small price to pay for developing what could become one of the best home-ice advantages in the NHL during the postseason.
“I think that’s the loudest I’ve heard this building,” said Vegas goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. “It was rocking. There was great intensity right from the start. The atmosphere in the building was awesome.”
The on-ice pregame show included a battle scene seemingly out “Game of Thrones” as a Golden Knight slayed a King at center ice before Vegas players stormed through an oversized Golden Knights helmet lowered from the rafters as the crowd stood and waved towels. There have been some wild pregame ceremonies in hockey, but this was arguably the craziest.