In a city built in the middle of the desert on the abiding allure of the possible over the probable, the odds finally caught up with the Vegas Golden Knights.
The Knights’ unlikely quest for the Stanley Cup ended Thursday night at T-Mobile Arena with a 4-3 loss to the Washington Capitals.
History will record the Stanley Cup Final as a 4-1 series victory for the Capitals, their first title since entering the league in 1974. But that doesn’t do justice to the Knights’ joyous and wild ride.
The Knights’ accomplishments in their first season of existence have set a new standard for sport. Expansion teams are typically set up to take a shellacking — at least for the first few years. Instead, the Knights — Southern Nevada’s first major professional sports team — roared out of the gate, winning eight of their first nine games. When the regular season ended in April, the team had captured the Pacific Division with 51 wins and posted the fifth-best record in the league.
The success continued into the postseason as the Knights won three playoff series to reach the Stanley Cup Final before succumbing to the Capitals.
It was the greatest performance by a first-year team in the annals of professional sports.
“It’s very special, but we came up just a little bit short,” said forward James Neal on Thursday night. “But proud of the guys. … I think we look back on this after we get some time to think about it. Obviously, it’s very hard to talk about right now.”
The NHL’s Vegas experiment was a rousing success, a flare to other major leagues looking to expand or relocate. The fans turned out in droves. Knights gear flew off the shelves and became the top-selling NHL merchandise nationwide. Thousands of Las Vegans who previously didn’t know icing or offside from a ball back or banana kick showed up to watch the team practice at its new facility in Summerlin.
Of greater importance, the Knights were a moving triumph regardless of their prowess on the ice.
From owner Bill Foley on down, members of this team, in one short year, have become an indelible part of Southern Nevada, magnificent ambassadors who helped Las Vegas through perhaps its greatest tragedy. The Knights regular-season home debut came on Oct. 10, just nine days after the Strip massacre left 58 dead and hundreds wounded. The organization put together an emotional pregame tribute to the victims and first responders — a tribute that cemented the team’s bond with the community. During these times of division and acrimony, the Knights proved a unifying force for Las Vegas that transcended today’s petty discourse.
The eventful first season of the Knights may not have ended as many fans had hoped. But the team nevertheless carved out a chapter in the history books. And remember: The NHL’s preseason slate is just three months away.