Wednesday, April 11, 2018 | 10:10 p.m.
Those who spent the season saying the Golden Knights weren’t built for the playoffs can trudge barefoot uphill through miles of snow back into their caves and spare everyone the hockey lectures for a while.
Vegas looked plenty ready for the elevated stakes in the first playoff game in franchise history Wednesday night at T-Mobile Arena, beating Los Angeles 1-0 to take a one-game lead in the teams’ Western Conference quarterfinal series.
The Golden Knights won the exact type of game the naysayers said they couldn’t. They prevailed in a grueling, physical battle that featured a staggering 127 hits and six total penalties.
No matter how often the Golden Knights proved themselves and how many expansion-team records they shattered throughout the season, many pointed toward the playoffs as the team's day of reckoning. The doom and gloom only intensified with Vegas struggling to win only one of its final six regular-season games in regulation, despite the fact that all of those games came after it had already locked up the Pacific Division title.
A burlier team like the Kings, they said, would render the Knights’ speedier, aggressive style useless.
It’s time to get out of here with that nostalgic nonsense.
Those opinions will age as well as the quotes that were projected onto the ice pregame at T-Mobile Arena about hockey not working in Las Vegas. The Golden Knights’ production staff also raised their game for the playoffs, firing up the fans with a pregame package that included flashbacks to phrases like, “terrible idea,” and predictions about the team failing in the desert.
The sentiments were particularly laughable in front of a record crowd of 18,479 fans that gave the Golden Knights an invaluable advantage. Much like in their home opener, it felt like the Golden Knights were destined to ride the energy to at least one early goal.
Sure enough, Shea Theodore slapped one past Kings goalie Jonathan Quick in less than four minutes for a score that would ultimately prove enough. At that point in the game, the Kings seemed more concerned about knocking the Golden Knights around than attacking offensively.
Vegas had five Corsi — a measure of every shot sent toward the opponents’ goal — before the Kings had one.
It flipped in the second period, when the Kings got an early second and then third power play. They peppered Golden Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury with shots, but the three-time Stanley Cup champion repeatedly held up.
Everyone discounting the Golden Knights’ playoff prospects must have forgotten about the Fleury luxury.
The Golden Knights didn’t get beat up, either. The Kings came out with only a slight edge, 68-59, in the hits department.
The difference was, Vegas appeared to ramp up the physicality when it made sense. Conversely, Los Angeles sometimes appeared to border on a team of goons with players like Kyle Clifford attempting to bully the Golden Knights for no apparent benefit.
The cries of Vegas’ size and strength shortcomings are certain to get a second wind when the Kings inevitably trip up the Golden Knights at some point in the series. These teams are too closely contested — they’re now tied at 11 goals apiece in five combined games against each other this season — for a sweep.
Even if the Kings manage to win four of the next six games and end the Golden Knights’ season prematurely, however, it won’t be because of a dilapidated ideal on toughness. It’s a revolutionary era across all sports, and time to get away from the past.
The Philadelphia Eagles just won the Super Bowl throwing the ball 43 times with a backup quarterback, not controlling the clock with their run game. The Golden State Warriors have run roughshod over the NBA without any semblance of a traditional big man patrolling the paint. The Houston Astros won the most recent World Series with a lineup of young hitters, not trusty veterans.
That’s not to say the Golden Knights will win the Stanley Cup in their first try. It’s just to say that their newer-age approach won’t play any part in precluding them from doing so.
It got off to a pretty decent start in Game 1 against the Kings.