The gold streamers that rained down on ecstatic Las Vegas hockey fans punctuated another achievement that few predicted before October’s season opener: The Golden Knights clinched a spot in the Western Conference final.
Thousands who gathered at Toshiba Plaza outside T-Mobile Arena on Sunday watched on a video wall as the Knights shut out the San Jose Sharks, 3-0, and advanced in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“I’m so elated; I’m on the verge of tears,” Knights fan Matt Smiejan said over pulsating music after the final horn sounded.
Smiejan sat in the front row for the whole game, wearing customized wrestling belts and a knight-themed helmet made with a 3D printer.
“This is definitely a Cinderella story, and I know I’m not ready for it to end,” he said during the game.
The temperature in Las Vegas hit 97 degrees just before the puck dropped in San Jose, but the heat did not stop Knights fans from donning heavy hockey sweaters to support their team.
The watch party had a festival-like atmosphere, with supporters bringing lawn chairs and blankets to the plaza. Crowd prompts and T-shirt tosses kept attendees excited during breaks in the action.
A drum line pounded instruments as fans chanted “Go, Knights, go!” to kick off the game. Dancers and the team’s mascot, a Gila monster named Chance, posed for pictures with fans and pumped up the crowd.
Matt Helfst proudly waved a Knights flag in the front row during intermissions and stoppages in play. His handmade sign read “Real fans don’t sit.” When play stopped, he riled up those around him.
“Vegas is all about our hockey,” he said. “We love it.”
Dressed in sparkling gold suspenders, Alyce Wheeler had brought a bag of gummy sharks to the party. “We’re draining the tank!” she yelled as the final intermission gave Knights fans a chance to cool down after a two-goal second period.
After Cody Eakin scored an empty-net goal and the final seconds ticked off in the third period, Deborah Mizrahi couldn’t contain her excitement. She never cared about hockey before, but she was sold on the sport after attending her first Knights game in October.
“I never imagined I would witness this in Vegas in a million years,” she said.
As the front rows cleared out after the game, strangers danced together to celebrate the win.
“Our city has a team; that’s what it’s all about,” said Roger Hallback, who was sweating after he left the makeshift dance floor. “It’s our team. Las Vegas, baby!”