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.
On the first day of Hockeymas, the Vegas Golden Knights gave their fans a historical first season by making the Stanley Cup Final as an expansion team. During this season, they became the second team in NHL history to advance to the final in their first year joining the 1967-68 St. Louis Blues.
The Golden Knights shocked the hockey world during their inaugural season. Traditionally, it takes a few years for the team to find its identity and for players to build chemistry. However, that did not seem to be the case for Vegas. The team seemed to rally behind the idea of being “misfits.”
These “misfits” seemed to be led by a rejuvenated William Karlsson. During this season, he recorded a career high in points, goals and assists. Karlsson reached the 40-goal mark while producing 78 points. Other players that took on a starring role during the inaugural season were Alex Tuch, David Perron, Nate Schmidt and Marc-Andre Fleury. Each of these players seemed to be playing some of their best hockey at the time and the mix of youth with a veteran presence seemed to be the perfect fit for Vegas.
The Golden Knights won the Pacific Division this year, immediately writing off all of the preseason skepticism. This also turned heads in their own city as before the season began, the Vegas oddsmakers gave the Golden Knights a +20000 chance of winning the cup and only projected them to earn 68.5 points during the regular season.
The Playoff Run
Taking the top seed in the Pacific Division, the Golden Knights’ first challenge in the playoffs was the Los Angeles Kings. Although they had just shocked the NHL, Vegas still had to face an experienced Kings team that was looking to continue playoff success from years past. Amazingly, led by stellar play from Fleury, the Golden Knights were able to sweep their inter-division rival and advance to the next round.
The next challenge for the new team on the block was the San Jose Sharks. This was before both teams became fierce rivals, but it did help lay the base for it. Right off the bat, the Golden Knights made a statement against the Sharks. They won Game 1 by a score of 7-0. The rest of the series seemed to go exactly as the Golden Knights would have hoped. Vegas ultimately won the series 4-2 and were off to their first Western Conference Final.
In the Conference Final, Vegas was set to play the Winnipeg Jets. The Jets had just finished a seven-game series with the Nashville Predators just two days prior to the start of Game 1. However, this series provided a new challenge for the Golden Knights — being down in a series. Vegas lost the first game and for the first time in their playoff history, they had to chase. This proved to not be a challenge as the team was able to win their next four games and advance to the Stanley Cup Final.
By doing this, they broke through the glass ceiling and cemented their place in the NHL. They were the first expansion team to reach the finals in 50 years and were looking to do what the Blues could not: win the Stanley Cup. It would prove to be an extremely tough challenge as they were set to face the Washington Capitals, led by a seemingly unstoppable Alexander Ovechkin.
The Stanley Cup Final
The 2018 Stanley Cup Final was one headlined by the number one. The Golden Knights were in their first season and had the chance to win the Stanley Cup. On the other side, Ovechkin seemingly exercised his demons of Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguin and was hungry for his first Stanley Cup.
Game 1 was electric. It was a high-scoring, high-action game that was fitting of the two offensive juggernauts. However, it was the depth of Vegas that proved to be the most valuable asset for the Golden Knights. Their leading scorers for Game 1 were Deryk Engelland, Tomas Nosek and Reilly Smith with two points each. Nosek recorded two goals during the game. Vegas eventually won 6-4 and were in the driver’s seat to begin the series.
Game 2 was marked as the turning in the series. It was a much lower scoring game as both teams seemed to have settled down from the excitement of making it to the final. Washington led the game entering the third period, but Vegas was pressuring as they had more shots. The turning point in this game occurred with two minutes left in the third period when Braden Holtby made a diving stick save to rob Tuch of the game-tying goal. The Capitals survived the continuous Golden Knights onslaught and won 3-2.
Unfortunately for the Golden Knights, Game 2 seemed to be the nail in the coffin for their Stanley Cup hopes. They lost the next three games and were eliminated. All in all, this was a successful year for the franchise. They surpassed all expectations and were able to create a winning culture in Las Vegas. As for the Ovechkin, he finally got the chance to hoist the Stanley Cup after defeating the goalie that robbed him of it so many times before.
Now, the Golden Knights are continuing the success of their first season. They have made the playoffs each year and have advanced to the Western Conference Final twice. Things are looking promising for the Golden Knights in the 2020-21 season as they just signed Alex Pietrangelo to a seven-year contract and Robin Lehner to a five-year contract. Once considered an afterthought to win the Stanley Cup, Vegas is now one of the powerhouse teams in the NHL.