With their win over the Colorado Avalanche on Monday night, the Vegas Golden Knights clinched a playoff berth in their inaugural season. No one expected this team to be anywhere near a playoff spot as their inaugural season got underway. Most expansion teams have struggled in their first couple of seasons, but the Golden Knights look like they have been blessed. And indeed, they have been blessed, but not with some unexplainable good luck. No, this team has been blessed with players who work hard at practice and bring everything they have to each game. They have been blessed with passionate fans who bring energy and loud support to their team at every home game. And they have been blessed with a great head coach in Gerard Gallant who will likely take home this season’s Jack Adams Award.
“It means a lot obviously, but right now, it’s about doing our job,” Gallant said after the game. “Early in the season, I would come home many of nights and I would say ‘You know, what is going on here? We are a good hockey team. We are winning every night and we are playing well.’ Now I come to the rink and I expect our team to play well and I expect our team to win.”
That expectation has certainly been communicated to the players who suit up every game. And it is shown in the way the players battle and the way they come back from injury and adversity.
With 6:17 remaining in the second period, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare took a high stick to the face—resulting in a double minor on the Avalanche’s Tyson Jost. The stitches under Bellemare’s left eye will undoubtedly leave an impressive scar. Perhaps it will always be a reminder for him of the first time the team earned a playoff spot. Of course Bellemare was right back on the bench at the start of the third, looking a bit roughed up, but focused on the task at hand. Such leadership speaks volumes and shows why he wears an A on his sweater.
“[The players] know what [Bellemare] does. Earlier in the period I think he blocked two or three shots on [the] PK,” Gallant stressed after the game. “He sacrifices his body, he’s a great teammate. When you see your teammate doing that, you better work hard; you better compete hard. Bellemare has been doing that for us all year long, and he’s a great leader of our team.”
But perhaps it is also about wanting to prove that they could do it. That as a team they could not only fill an arena—something else people doubted—but that they could win games.
“Well, we all came from the same situation—we were the leftovers, the misfits—so, we were all in the same boat really. We all wanted to prove something, and we are all pulling in the same direction,” shared William Karlsson. “And we had a great start. That’s obviously easier than having to lose those first couple of games. I don’t know, we’re just having fun. I think we play pretty relaxed and we have a lot of fun.”
Karlsson scored his 40th goal of the season on Monday night, which gave him three points in the game, having assisted on the Golden Knights first two goals of the game, which included the goal scored during the power play after Bellemare was injured. Like many hockey players, Karlsson downplayed his milestone, but it is that humbleness that brings out the best in players such as he. And he most definitely is not a misfit.
“He’s been huge for our team. We knew he was a good hockey player, but we didn’t know he was going to put up the numbers and play a two-way game like he has all season long for us,” Gallant said. “Again, I thought he was a good solid player, but to be a first line guy, to put up 40 goals so far. He’s going to get to 45, I think, he’s still got six games left. But he’s had an outstanding season. He works every night, and if he doesn’t play well offensively, he doesn’t score, he does a great job defensively, so he’s been a great player for us.”
However, the players are not sitting back on their laurels after Monday’s win. They are already focusing on Tuesday’s practice and what the Arizona Coyotes will bring when they show up on Wednesday night after beating the Tampa Bay Lightning while on the road on Monday.