Wednesday, April 11, 2018 | 2 a.m.
Playoffs in three years. Stanley Cup champions in six.
That was the timeline owner Bill Foley established for his National Hockey League expansion franchise when it launched in 2016. Yep, the Vegas Golden Knights are playing with house money the rest of the season.
Las Vegas just can’t have that mentality when the Knights open a first-round Stanley Cup playoff series today against the visiting Los Angeles Kings. Don’t be content with qualifying for the postseason; realize this team has a realistic chance of being the last one standing.
The players definitely are not complacent. They don’t care that, win or lose, the inaugural season will be labeled a success. They want to win.
Not only are the Golden Knights the best expansion team in league history, they captured the hearts of Las Vegans, who became passionate about their first major sports franchise.
Hockey in the desert has been a smashing success, which was all many people were initially concerned about, right? Now, there could be two months left and a playoff run of closely contested games and memorable moments that make us even more crazed for the franchise.
“We are just here to surprise. Nobody thought we’d win more than 10 games this year, so we just want to surprise,” center Jonathan Marchessault said. The Kings have racked up a lot of wins, “but I think we will give them a good battle for sure,” he said.
The Knights are a lot like our city.
They are fast-paced. They use their speed and aggressiveness to put constant pressure on opponents.
They are flashy, like that between-the-legs goal against San Jose by William “Wild Bill” Karlsson two weeks ago that clinched the Pacific Division title.
And like the people of Las Vegas, they have a strong bond, an on-ice chemistry many didn’t expect from a new team whose players were elsewhere last season.
The plan was supposed to be “playoffs in three years, period,” as Foley said in 2016.
Then, something unexpected started to happen: The Knights won and won again and again, shattering expansion-team records along the way.
With the success came an audible from Foley’s plan.
General Manager George McPhee could have sold off certain players at the trade deadline to accumulate more draft picks and younger players for the future. Instead, he kept the team intact and extended the contracts of Marchessault and Deryk Engelland and didn’t part with team-leader James Neal, whose contract is expiring.
The trade deadline acts of McPhee, whose former Washington Capitals teams were always strong in the regular season but came up short in the playoffs, reaffirmed that this team has a legitimate shot at winning the Cup. Those chances don’t come around every season, especially for expansion teams that, in all sports, traditionally wait years to taste the madness of the postseason.
There are 16 teams in the playoffs, and anything can happen.
Why not Vegas? Why not add to this great story?
The Knights are fifth in the NHL in goals at 3.3 per game, goalie Marc-André Fleury is a three-time Stanley Cup champion with many games of playoff experience and this team tough to beat at home.
Vegas went 29-10-2 at T-Mobile Arena, where it has the best home-ice advantage in the league. I’m biased, of course.
This team will forever be celebrated as the one that helped us fall in love with the Knights. They gave residents something to be proud of and someone to root for. They helped us heal from the Oct. 1 mass shooting.
There is still plenty of hockey left this season. We could be in store for two of the greatest months in our town’s sports history. Buckle up.