Photo: Vegas Golden Knights Facebook
With a 2-1 win over the Jets in Winnipeg Sunday, the Vegas Golden Knights fought their way to the Stanley Cup Final—making themselves the first professional sports expansion team to reach a championship in their inaugural season since the 1967-68 St. Louis Blues.
The Blues didn’t take home Lord Stanley that year (or any year since), but no precedent has been set for Vegas. They finished the regular season with the league’s second-best record. They have an impressively interactive social media team. Fans overflow their stadium in their first season.
And, they open playoff games like this:
With no set traditions or standards, they’ve created their own. It’s working out well so far:
- Swept the Los Angeles Kings in Round One:
- 1-0 win April 11
- 2-1 double overtime win April 13
- 3-2 win April 15
- 1-0 win April 17
- Ousted the San Jose Sharks in Round Two:
- 7-0 win April 26
- 4-3 double overtime win April 28
- 4-3 overtime win April 30
- 0-4 loss May 2
- 5-3 win May 4
- 3-0 win May 6
- Flew past the Jets in Round Three:
- 2-4 loss May 12
- 3-1 win May 14
- 4-2 win May 16
- 3-2 win May 18
- 2-1 win May 20
And, with assurances from Stanley Cup-winning goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, Alternate Captain Deryk Engelland accepted, and raised the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl awarded to the Western Conference winner each season.
This comes with great superstition, often attributed to not touching a trophy that isn’t The Stanley Cup, similar to young hockey players’ refusal to touch Stanley without earning it.
In the Western Conference, where the Knights preside, no one has touched the Campbell Bowl since the 2004 Calgary Flames. They ultimately lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning, who, coincidentally are one of the two teams Vegas may face in the final.
The Eastern Conference has been a little less stringent with its “Do Not Touch” rules and the Prince of Wales Trophy. After not touching, then losing the Final to the Detroit Red Wings in 2008, the Pittsburgh Penguins‘ Captain Sidney Crosby took matters into his own hands. In 2009, the Pens (with Fleury as netminder) touched the Prince of Wales Trophy and raised the Stanley Cup. They did the same in 2016 and 2017.
Since 1997, when this tradition started, ontheforecheck reports teams touching their respective trophy are 10-7 in the Final while those who are hands-off are 10-13. In seasons where one team touches and the other abstains, the touching team is 6-3 in the Final.
Engelland said he deferred to Fleury, who finished the series with a 2.02 goals-against average and .938 save percentage and is heading into his third-consecutive championship:
“He’s been the backbone to our team. It more or less came down to whatever he wanted to do.”
Erik Haula echoed that sentiment:
”You could argue that he is playing the best hockey of his career, which is saying a lot. He’s everything you want in a goalie and it’s just a privilege playing with him. It’s just awesome to see him having fun and get another chance.”
Lightning Coach Jon Cooper had high praise for the league newcomers:
“It’s a success story is what it is. It’s not a Cinderella story,. There’s been talk of ‘how could that happen’ or whatever. I’ll tell you how it happened: They got an owner (Bill Foley) that hired an unreal GM (George McPhee), and they got an unreal GM that hired an unreal coach (Gerard Gallant). They were all left to do their jobs. They were given a framework to work with. They could’ve screwed it up, or they could’ve done really well, and they chose to do really well. They played within the rules that were given to them, and this is what you get.
“I know the gentlemen well that are involved, the GM and coach, and I couldn’t be prouder of the guys of the job they’ve done. They deserved to get there, and I only hope we’re the team they get to play.”
Capitals coach Barry Trotz was less enthusiastic about the process that built the Knights, but nonetheless knows his team could be up for a challenge if they head to the Final.
“They got a lot of players from other hockey teams that we didn’t want to lose. I know they always say we didn’t want those players. Well, we all did. The rules were the rules. They did a great job.
“There’s nothing tighter than that first-year group. There’s no preconceived notion. There’s no leadership in place. Nobody knows where to live. It’s galvanizing.”
Following Vegas’ conference win, winger James Neal talked to the press:
“I’m so proud of this group. We’re not done yet. This is a special group. We’ve done a great job all year staying in the moment. We’ll have lots of time to look back and enjoy this, but right now we’re looking straight ahead.”
The Knights are 2-0-0 against both the Capitals and the Lightning this season. If the Lightning win, Game 1 will be played in Tampa. If the Capitals go to the Final, they’ll play Game 1 in Las Vegas.
With Fleury (1.68 goals allowed per game in the postseason and a .927 save percentage and 2.24 goals-against average for this year) on the Knights’ side, even fans of the new team are optimistic:
The Stanley Cup Final schedule:
Game 1: Monday, May 28 at 8 p.m. E.T./7 p.m. C.T.
Game 2: Wednesday, May 30 at 8 p.m. E.T./7 p.m. C.T.
Game 3: Saturday, June 2 at 8 p.m. E.T./7 p.m. C.T.
Game 4: Monday, June 4 at 8 p.m. E.T./7 p.m. C.T.
*Game 5: Thursday, June 7 at 8 p.m. E.T./7 p.m. C.T.
*Game 6: Sunday, June 10 at 8 p.m. E.T./7 p.m. C.T.
*Game 7: Wednesday, June 13 at 8 p.m. E.T./7 p.m. C.T.