The Vegas Golden Knights have established themselves as a force to be reckoned with in the Western Conference. In just two seasons as a franchise, the Golden Knights exceeded expectations by reaching the Stanley Cup Playoffs both times, making the Final in their inaugural season.
Despite coming up short the past two seasons, Vegas will likely remain a top team in the West. However, they will have plenty of decisions to make this off-season before starting their third outing for a Stanley Cup. What’s kept the Golden Knights from attaining the Holy Grail of hockey, and what will it take to get it in the 2019-20 season?
Vegas Golden Knights’ Inaugural Run
Vegas defied the odds in their inaugural 2017-18 season. In the wake of a tragic shooting, an entire city rallied behind their infant NHL franchise in what was almost a perfect Cinderella story. Unfortunately, that story came to a screeching halt in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.
After taking a 1-0 series lead behind a solid 6-4 victory, the Golden Knights were left shell-shocked as the Washington Capitals rattled off four straight wins to capture the Stanley Cup. To add insult to injury, the Caps celebrated and were presented the Cup on Vegas’ home ice.
In their final four games of the 2018 Final, it seemed as though the Golden Knights suffered from one of two problems – 1) they scored early but couldn’t maintain the lead, or 2) they got behind early and couldn’t make up the difference. Neither problem is a recipe for success, especially in a playoff series.
The most glaring issue for the Golden Knights in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final was their top players’ inability to score. Reilly Smith and James Neal both contributed a fair amount in the final series, however, the likes of William Karlsson and Jonathon Marchessault were completely silent as Vegas’ Cup hopes faded with each passing game.
The Golden Knights quickly refocused following their Stanley Cup Final loss, and geared up for another run in the 2018-19 season.
Round Two for the Vegas Golden Knights
The Golden Knights put together an impressive sophomore campaign and secured a second trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs as the third seed in the Pacific Division. Unlike their dominant run in 2018, they became mired in a seven-gamebattle with the San Jose Sharks.
Falling behind 1-0 in the series, the Golden Knights quickly regrouped and stormed back with three straight wins. With solid contributions from a number of players and a strong showing from Max Pacioretty, it seemed as though Vegas would push through to the second round.
However, the Golden Knights failed to eliminate San Jose in Games 5 and 6, setting up a dramatic Game 7 showdown. Many fans and hockey spectators will argue that the Sharks benefited from a controversial penalty call against Vegas that gave San Jose a five-minute man-advantage. The Sharks took full advantage, scoring four power-play goals before Barclay Goodrow dashed the Golden Knights’ Stanley Cup aspirations once again with the overtime game-winner.
Once again it would seem that the Golden Knights ran out of steam, although this time it manifested over the series as opposed to individual games. Should the Golden Knights reach the playoffs again in 2020, will they be able to break the cycle?
Round Three for Vegas?
As mentioned previously, the Golden Knights have some decisions to make before the puck drops for the 2019-20 season. Between some front office moves, maneuvering with minimal cap space, and some rising teams in the Western Conference, Vegas will have an uphill climb to reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a third straight season.
And if they do manage to make it to the playoffs, they’ll need to figure out how to maintain a balanced and consistent effort both in individual games, as well as over the course of a series. It’s a long ways off, but it’ll be interesting to see how the chips fall for the Golden Knights in 2019-20.
Former Army officer and Army ACHA D2 hockey player.
Husband and father of 3.