The ’12 Days of Christmas’ is a classic holiday song first published in its current form in 1908. In a nod to the classic carol, join The Hockey Writers as we count down the 12 Days of Hockeymas. Each day, we will provide you with a piece of hockey history as we eagerly await the start of the 2020-21 NHL season.
It’s a rarity that expansion teams are successful immediately upon their arrival into the league, but the Vegas Golden Knights seem to be the exception, not the rule. No other expansion team in NHL history has enjoyed the success Vegas has during their first three seasons in the league.
Over their first three seasons they have won 133 regular season games, having played a combined 235. These winning ways were good enough to capture two Pacific Division titles for the Golden Knights in the past three seasons. In saying that, we take a closer look at the division-clinching seasons for the Golden Knights.
The 2017-18 season was the Golden Knights inaugural season and it became one to remember. The team played their first game on Oct. 6, 2017, beating the Dallas Stars. James Neal scored the franchise’s first-ever goal and would become a focal point for their deep playoff run later in the season. This win versus Dallas would get the ball rolling for the Golden Knights, as they went on to win eight of their first nine games, the first inaugural team to ever complete the feat in NHL history.
What makes this season even more impressive is that the Golden Knights won all their games while going through a goaltending fiasco. Marc-André Fleury, Vegas’s bona fide starter, had gone down with an injury early in the season, as did backup Malcolm Subban, which is what started Vegas on their goaltending carousel. In total, five goalies suited up for the team that season, with Fleury playing the most games, posting a 29-13-4 record and leading Vegas into the playoffs.
The Golden Knights were setting the mark for how to win hockey games as an expansion franchise and on Feb. 1, 2018 they set the expansion team record for most wins in a teams first 50 games, with 34. This wouldn’t be the only record they’d set in February of that year, as on Feb. 21, 2018, Vegas set a record for most points by an expansion team in their inaugural season with 84.
Finishing the season with a 51-24-7 record, the Golden Knights captured the Pacific Division title and met the Los Angeles Kings in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. That playoffs was extremely memorable for fans around the league as Vegas did the unthinkable – winning their first three playoff series and playing their way into the Stanley Cup Final. Having beaten the Kings, Sharks and Jets, respectively, to make it to the final, the team had defied odds and had made it all the way to the end with one more hurdle to jump.
That hurdle would end up being the Washington Capitals, and would be one the Golden Knights could not jump over. They ended up losing the series 4-1, and although they primed the fans for a Cinderella story for the ages, it just wasn’t meant to be. Despite the loss, the team won 13 postseason games that year, consequently breaking the record for most playoff wins by an expansion team in their first playoff appearance, as well as establishing a soft spot in the hearts of hockey fans everywhere.
Third Time’s the Charm
The 2019-20 season was one like no other, for many of the wrong reasons. NHL play, as well the entire sports world, was shut down entirely when the COVID-19 pandemic became rampant in North America. This forced the shutdown of leagues everywhere, which left us fans at home, bored and sulking.
The season wasn’t all that bad for Vegas though, as in 71 regular season games they posted a 39-24-8 record, good for 86 points and first in the Pacific — the second time in three seasons they captured the division title. They would end up earning the first seed in the Western Conference during the play-in round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and would face the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round.
This team had acquired big names like Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty the season prior and looked primed for another deep playoff run. It is safe to say they did not disappoint. The Golden Knights ended up going all the way to the Western Conference Final, beating the Blackhawks and Vancouver Canucks to make it there. They would be defeated by Dallas, but once again Vegas made their mark and showed us that although they were a relatively new team, they meant business.
Eyes on the Future
The Golden Knights have written an unprecedented story since their entry into the league. A Stanley Cup Final appearance, two division titles and three straight playoff appearances is unheard of for an expansion franchise in their first three seasons. Still, as we all know, the ultimate goal is to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup — something that has eluded the Golden Knights thus far.
With the powerhouse addition of Alex Pietrangelo this offseason, and a core group of players who know what it takes to win, the Golden Knights will look to make Vegas even more proud this season, by bringing the coveted Stanley Cup to Sin City. I wouldn’t be surprised if they repeat as Cup champs once they capture their first. Remember — what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.