All last Summer, I maintained a running joke with a friend who lives in Las Vegas. The conceit was that we were die-hard fans of the Golden Knights, the NHL expansion team that was preparing for its inaugural season in the city. Expansion teams are nearly guaranteed to have miserable early years, and Vegas’ squad was a patchwork of cast-offs and inexperienced also-rans.
I thought it was such a funny joke that I even bought my friend some Golden Knights gear. I was financially invested in the hilarity. Then, Las Vegas actually started playing, and winning, games. They totally stepped on the gag.
On Friday, the Knights outlasted the San Jose Sharks 5-3 in the teams’ second-round Stanley Cup Playoff series. Las Vegas is up three games to two and is one win away from punching their ticket to the Western Conference Finals.
One could argue that, as an ice hockey team that plays in the middle of the desert, the Golden Knights are an affront to basic sense. Much like Las Vegas itself, the team sprung forth from nothing. It’s not a mirage, however, and they have become so popular that thousands of fans attend the team’s practices. Sometimes, you have to remind yourself that this is happening in Las Vegas, of all places. Other times, Vegas does that for you.
It’s hard to overstate just how surprising the Knights’ success has been. The team was assembled largely from spare parts through the expansion draft. Other NHL franchises could protect up to 11 players each, and Vegas was allowed to pick from the remaining dregs. The Knights chose wisely, and they also managed to pull off some shrewd maneuvers, like trading a second-round pick in the 2020 draft to the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for experienced goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.
Fleury, and the team as a whole, have been a revelation. The Knights clinched the Pacific Division with a regular season record of 51–24–7. They swept the Los Angeles Kings in the first round of the postseason and only allowed three total goals during that series. Even if they slip up and lose to the Sharks, the Knights have already proven themselves as the best expansion team in the history of modern American sports. Las Vegas cobbled together spare parts to make a life raft, but they wound up building the Concorde.
The Golden Knights wear success well. They have been in control since the first puck dropped in October, even if some hometown bookmakers listed the team as 500-1 underdogs to win the Cup. Now, those odds are at 7-2, and they may shrink smaller still.
Against all odds—and despite my best efforts last summer—the Golden Knights are not a joke. It pains me to say this, but there is nothing funny about the team that pumps up its home playoff crowds with costumed knights performing choreographed battles at center ice.
OK, that may be a little funny. But other than the occasional Medieval Times performance, the Golden Knights are nothing to laugh at.