House money. That’s what the Vegas Golden Knights have been playing with all season long having exceeded any and all expectations in their inaugural year — one that began in the wake of a tragedy and has yet to end after an historic regular season led to a postseason berth.
The majority of the roster is made up of players (and a head coach) cast off from other NHL teams. They were deemed expendable and not worthy of protection before last June’s expansion draft. Their head coach was last seen getting inside a North Carolina taxi following his dismissal before he resurfacing after getting hired. So while the standings read 51 wins, 109 points, a division title and a fifth-place overall finish in the league, there are no “Stanley Cup or Bust” expectations in Vegas.
They were doubted before they even hit the ice for training; predicted for eventual doom once Marc-Andre Fleury went down for two months due to a concussion; and questioned about the sustainability of their regular season success until that “y” appeared next to their name in the NHL standings. Questions were asked and answers were given.
But even with all of that success, the Golden Knights losing in the first round to the Los Angeles Kings doesn’t feel like it would be a major disappointment. They’ve been one of the best stories in hockey this season, but the Kings are a fine team, and even through 82 games our minds are collectively programmed to expect the bottom to drop out sooner than later for an expansion team, no matter their success. William Karlsson 23.4 shooting percentage? Can’t last. Their speed against a physical LA side? That’s trouble.
And if the magic runs out, that’s OK. There’s been plenty for the franchise to build on for the future over the course of the last seven months. Off the ice, their fan base has grown with many who may not have had any interest in the sport previously, or were of the casual variety. Now they’re Golden Knights fans through and through.
A Stanley Cup run this spring would be the ultimate reward for what’s transpired this season, but there are no tense feelings surrounding the team as Game 1 approaches.
“There’s no pressure on the Vegas Golden Knights,” said head coach Gerard Gallant this week.
That’s the kind of message to hammer home to your players beginning this week. While the Golden Knights’ roster sports plenty of playoff experience, every moment is magnified this time of year, allowing for teams and players to place undue pressure on themselves.
“I don’t like the word pressure. That word, I just don’t like it. I think it brings negativity in the air. I don’t know what word would be better, but I just don’t like the word pressure,” Golden Knights forward Erik Haula told Sin Bin Vegas this week. “I know the swings that you go through, good and bad. I’ve been down (in series), I’ve been up in series, and you’ve just got to ride those things and you’ve got to stick together as a group, and just have fun with it.
“This is supposed to be fun and hopefully it lasts a long time.”
Enjoying the ride and keeping that pressure out of the dressing room will be a key to Vegas’ success this postseason. They’ve already proven they can be among the best in the NHL, and they’re not ready to rest on their regular season accomplishments.
“We played well all year. We’ve got a good group, we’ve got an even four lines that we can all play against anyone,” Haula said. “I’m just excited to see the next step we’re going to take as a group here.”