Twelve months ago, the Vegas Golden Knights didn’t have a roster, busily preparing for the NHL expansion draft.
A month earlier, Gerard Gallant was named the franchise’s initial head coach; he was (temporarily) a man without a team. Today, in light of the unique location of this expansion team, there is only one word that can cover the club’s unprecedented success:
The expression, of course, comes from the dice game of craps, when the shooter rolls a pair of sixes (aka 12). The number also equals the number of postseason victories for the Knights to reach the Cup Final. Meanwhile, the rest of the Western Conference may be thinking to themselves the other definition of “craps” after Vegas (12-3 record, +1,135 units) completed the road to the Clarence Campbell Cup trophy.
The Golden Knights clinched the West with a 2-1 triumph in Game 5 of the Western Final held in Winnipeg, ironically, the heart of Canada’s inter-continental railroad system (another stab at the “boxcars” moniker).
At press time, we don’t know which club will meet the Knights to play for the Holy Grail of Hockey.
If it’s Tampa Bay, Gallant will meet his final NHL stop as a player, serving as a left wing with the Lightning after being drafted by Detroit. Like the Knights, who play in the desert, Gallant was born in the middle of nowhere (at least, if you’re a Canadian): Summerside, Prince Edward Island.
If it’s Washington, Vegas GM George McPhee will tangle against a team in the city where he held his initial NHL management post. He took over as the Capitals’ GM in 1997, achieving seven consecutive Southeast Division titles and landing the club’s first (and only) Stanley Cup Final appearance.
McPhee also was responsible for acquiring all-star Alex Ovechkin. McPhee now owns an eighth division crown; Ovechkin wears No. 8. Coincidence?
Should Tampa Bay win Monday’s Game 6, the Lightning – with the home-ice advantage – will be the slight betting favorite over Vegas. Should Washington take both Game 6 and Wednesday’s “if necessary” Game 7, expect Vegas to be the favorite over the Caps because the Knights will hold home ice.
On Monday, if Washington won, Wednesday’s seventh and final game for the Eastern Conference crown and the Prince of Wales Trophy will be held in Tampa. If that happens, that means the Capitals survived the Atlantic Division’s home-ice jinx.
As stated last week in this column, the so-called lack of the home-ice “advantage” is only true, statistically, in the Atlantic, where teams from the division have gone 6-16 (3-11 in first round including New Jersey) this playoff year.
Although not great, the rest of the league has gone 30-24 at home.
Advantage Vegas: the Knights will get a day or two of extra rest than the Lightning or Capitals, just like they did for the Winnipeg series when the Jets finally out-lasted Nashville in seven games.
Should Vegas go on to capture the Cup, they would become the second – not first – franchise in North American major pro sports to capture a championship in its debut season (besides the first year of a league, duh).
The other one: the NFL Cleveland Browns.
Like hockey’s Edmonton Oilers and the other World Hockey Association clubs that which were absorbed into the NHL, the Browns were absorbed from the All-American Football Conference, where head coach Paul Brown’s troops won all four AAFC titles (1946-49), then hit a late field goal to nip the Los Angeles Rams, 30-28, for the 1950 crown in their debut NFL campaign.
Hall of Fame kicker Lou Groza hit from 16 yards – goal posts were on the goal line back then, not the back line of the end zone – with 28 seconds remaining in this pre-Super Bowl classic.
The NHL has gone back-and-forth using the terms “expansion” and “first year” for the Knights, attempting to preserve many of Wayne Gretzky’s records with the Oilers.
However, among true expansion sides, let’s give credit to Vegas’ William “Wild Bill” Karlsson as the “expansion club” era record-holder for goals (43) and assists (78). Karlsson topped the marks of Hall of Fame forward Gilbert Perreault from the famed French Connection line with the 1970-71 Sabres.