Gerard Gallant was hired as the first coach of the Golden Knights on April 13, 2017.
Exactly one year later, he will lead the expansion team in Game 2 of the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“Nobody dreamed it would go this well,” Gallant said.
Gallant guided the Knights to the Pacific Division title and now will try to win a playoff series for the first time as coach when the Knights meet the Los Angeles Kings in the opening round. Game 1 of the best-of-7 series begins at 7 p.m. Wednesday at T-Mobile Arena.
“The season’s gone terrific. So far, there’s been no hiccups at all,” Gallant said. “I think our organization from top to bottom has done a great job. But right now, we’re really focused on the hockey and the playoffs coming up and it’s going to be another experience.
“Everybody’s looking forward to it and everybody’s looking forward to having a lot of fun, and hopefully we can win a series. But it’s one game at a time. Nothing’s going to change for our group.”
Gallant led Florida to the Atlantic Division title in 2016 and was second in the voting for the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year but was fired after an 11-10-1 start the following season.
Now, Gallant is the overwhelming favorite to win the Jack Adams, thanks to his work behind the bench with the Knights.
The Knights finished the regular season with 109 points and are the first modern-era expansion team from any of the four North American professional sports leagues to win its division (excluding mergers and all-expansion divisions).
The Knights also became the first expansion team from any of the four North American professional sports leagues to start from scratch and finish in the top-five in the overall league standings.
“When you have a new team in the league earlier in the year, you don’t have a good book on them,” Kings first-year coach John Stevens said. “I think they’ve proven to everybody that they’re a really solid team that wasn’t going away, and I think that they’ve become, if anything, a little more well-known around the league in terms of what to expect from them, because they’re a very consistent hockey team that has instilled an identity with their hockey team in a hurry.
“Now they’ve forced everybody to take notice and be aware of what they’re capable of.”
Gallant is in a familiar situation entering the postseason for the second time in his coaching career. In 2016, Florida surprised many by winning its division and faced a wild-card team in the opening round.
The Panthers lost to the New York Islanders in six games.
“It didn’t go the way we wanted it to, but I think that was a different playoff series,” said Knights forward Reilly Smith, who played for Florida at the time. “It was pretty high-scoring, wide-open hockey. I don’t expect this series to be anything like that one.”
Under Gallant, the Knights utilize an aggressive 1-2-2 forecheck and want to push the pace; the Knights finished fifth in the league in goals per game (3.27).
The Kings, meanwhile, favor a physical style and will look to grind down the Knights.
“There’s no pressure on the Vegas Golden Knights,” Gallant said. “You go and play the game and have fun and it’s one game at a time and we see where we go with it. It’s going to be a battle, but it’s going to be fun.”