Las Vegas sports books see Golden Knights as NHL playoff team

Updated December 15, 2017 - 8:46 pm

If you thought the Golden Knights were living on beginner’s luck, you might have changed your tune this week.

Their 2-1 win over the two-time defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday at T-Mobile Arena proved that they will not be intimidated by the big boys. And after they play Florida on Sunday, the Knights will host a loaded Tampa Bay Lightning team Tuesday that is playing the NHL’s best hockey.

Chris Andrews, who runs the sports book at the South Point, posted a prop a few weeks ago on whether the Knights would make the Stanley Cup playoffs. The “yes” is now a minus-200 favorite, and the “no” is plus-175. Compare that with what the Westgate posted at the beginning of the season, when the Knights were plus-900 to make the playoffs.

Seeing the return of goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury from concussion protocol through the eyes of the fans was fascinating. I didn’t realize what a crowd favorite he had become. He became even more of a focal point because of what Sidney Crosby said before Thursday’s game. He said he thought the Penguins had an enormous advantage on Fleury because of all the time they faced him in practice.

But Fleury proved them wrong. He came way out of the net in the first period to fend off an attack by Conor Sheary, then went sprawling in the second period to stop a shot from Brian Dumoulin on his empty net. Those two moments had fans going crazy.

At no time did the Penguins dominate play, and that has become a recurring theme for the Golden Knights. A couple of teams have gotten the better of them with big defensemen, but the Penguins did not.

Sometimes a superstar still will step up, and it’s impossible to miss when he’s out there. You know it. You feel it. He controls the puck. But there was no point when you thought Crosby was a dominant force.

I know this is not a great Pittsburgh team right now, so Tuesday’s game against Tampa Bay could be the biggest test of the young season. But either way the Golden Knights have provided a rallying cry for the city.

A tip of the hat to Gerard Gallant for how he has coached this team. This does not look like an expansion franchise.

Let’s go bowling

Full disclosure: I’m a bowl guy. And I can’t wait for the college postseason to get started Saturday.

Let’s be perfectly honest: ESPN controls this month. For years when I worked there, the highest-rated month was always December because of the proliferation of bowl games, many of which ESPN owns.

They include the Las Vegas Bowl on Saturday at Sam Boyd Stadium featuring the only Power Five team to play before Christmas. As a matter of fact, Oregon-Boise State is also the best matchup before Christmas.

Oregon is laying 7 with an over-under of 61½, and as a general rule, I go against teams in the midst of a coaching change. But with Willie Taggart off to Florida State, it’s important to note that Mario Cristobal is leaving the rest of the staff intact for the game, and that’s good news for anyone backing the Ducks.

With the triumphant return of Oregon’s Justin Herbert and the leadership of Boise State’s Brett Rypien, these two quarterbacks could get this game into the 60s. But Ducks star running back Royce Freeman won’t play so that he can focus on his NFL future.

Games such as the Las Vegas Bowl are for the most loyal fans, the coaches and especially the players. All the bowls give the players gifts and schedule parties, and there’s nothing for a college football player not to like about these games.

These early bowl games are the appetizer for the main course — the national semifinals on Jan. 1. Let’s hope they provide us with a lot of entertainment and winning tickets.

Brent Musburger’s betting column appears Saturday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. His show on the Vegas Stats & Information Network can be heard on SiriusXM 204 and livestreamed at reviewjournal.com/vegas-stats-information-network.

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