The Golden Knights may have lost their first game in the Western Conference Final, but fans haven’t lost their faith that the team can advance to the Stanley Cup Final in its first season.
About 3,700 fans decked out in Knights jerseys, hats and T-shirts turned out Saturday afternoon at the Downtown Las Vegas Events Center to watch their team take on the Winnipeg Jets. To their dismay, fans saw their team fall 4-2 in Winnipeg in Game 1, but they remained resolute in the knowledge that there’s a lot of hockey left to be played.
Miguel Lopez, beer in hand, took solace in the fact that the Knights scored twice against a tough Jets squad. Vegas opened a playoff series on the road for the first time this postseason, and Lopez acknowledged the difficulty in defeating the Jets in their own building. A tall order, but a doable one.
“They’re not impossible to beat,” Lopez said.
He remains steadfast that the Knights will win the second game and eventually pull out the series in six games.
“It’s only one game,” Lopez said.
Las Vegan Tiffany Rogers, 47, said she thought a nearly weeklong break between rounds may have thrown the players off their game. Stronger play as the game progressed followed a poor start, but the team still looked off later in the game, she said.
Still, Rogers predicted that won’t last long.
“After that, I think you’re going to see a big change in the next game,” she said.
The puck dropped, and the team’s Knight mascot joked with and shook the hands of two fans wearing Jets jerseys among a sea of black, gray and gold. But moments later, those two fans cheered and the sea groaned as Winnipeg potted the game’s first goal 65 seconds into the game.
The buzz in the crowd dulled and grew quieter still as the Jets jumped out to a 3-0 lead. A goal by Vegas defenseman Brayden McNabb brought the crowd to its feet, but it proved to be one of only a handful of moments to cheer during the game.
Sitting in a lawn chair with two minutes left to go in the first period, Kevin Forde assessed that Vegas was playing sloppy and looked desperate. Winnipeg is a tough team, he said, but he still predicted the Knights would be the last team standing out of the Western Conference at the end of the series.
“I don’t think the Knights have seen a punch like that that early on the road in the playoffs,” Forde said.
He said it would be a blessing if the Knights escaped the period down only 3-1, which they eventually did. He expected Vegas to come out stronger it they did after a strong showing at the end of Game 6 in the second-round series against the San Jose Sharks.
Forde, 26, attended the first home game of the season and added that the team has had an amazing run to the Western Conference Final.
“You could give this script to Disney and they would turn it away,” he said of the young team’s storybook season.
Even down two goals before the start of the third period, Docia Nielsen expected the Knights to take the game to overtime.
“God bless you,” joked her boyfriend of three years, Douglas Messinger.
They love cheering for a team that Messinger, 56, said has captured the city’s attention the same way the old UNLV Rebels basketball teams. The two expect a long, hard-fought series that eventually ends with Vegas coming out on top in six or seven games.
Game 1 came to an end and fans began filing out onto the streets of downtown. Among them were Las Vegans Brian and Valerie Guillen and their 5-year-old daughter, Caylee, who wore a William Karlsson shirt. Karlsson and Marc-Andre Fleury are her favorite players.
She watches the games with her parents at home, cheering “Go, Knights, go!” at the television, even if her bedtime comes earlier than she may like.
“That doesn’t make her happy,” Brian Guillen said.
Valerie Guillen said it speaks volumes about the players’ character for the way they jelled so quickly after coming from different teams. The Guillens expressed hope that the rest of the season plays out more favorably for their favorite team.
Valerie Guillen said a return to T-Mobile Arena will benefit the team after the start on the road.
“They’ll feel it,” she said.
Prior to the start of the game, Lei Robinson sat on bleachers with her daughter and her boyfriend. She wore a Knights hat covered in patches as well as a Knights shirt, part of a growing collection of apparel in her household.
“Each time they progress, I grow more and more proud, and then I spend more and more money on gear,” she said, smiling.
What started with a hat has grown to four shirts, a car sticker, a jersey for her dog and even a sticker on her aquarium.
“Hundreds of dollars in gear,” 33-year-old boyfriend Anthony Reddic confirmed.
Robinson, 44, said she used to watch the Detroit Red Wings, but not in the same way she’s become invested in the Golden Knights. The team gives her pride in the place she’s called home for 34 years, she said.
“It’s amazing to look at our city and see how we’re all coming together regardless of ethnicity, religion and race,” Robinson said. “We’re all just coming together to support one team.”