Monday, May 28, 2018 | 2 a.m.
Just making the promise was enough. By delivering on it so generously and thrillingly, the Vegas Golden Knights have earned more thanks from Las Vegas than can possibly be expressed by words.
It was 231 days ago when defenseman Deryk Engelland stepped to center ice at T-Mobile Arena and, in a cathedral-like moment before a crowd of 18,191 people, vowed that he and his teammates would do “everything we can” to help the city and the survivors of the Oct. 1 shooting heal.
The commitment became part of Las Vegas lore as soon as Engelland made it. Never had a city been in greater need of such a big-brotherly display of support and caring, and tears and cheers mixed together in the crowd’s reaction.
And then, the magic started happening.
It began practically as soon as Engelland stepped off the ice and play got underway, as the Golden Knights scored two goals in the first 4 minutes, 18 seconds of the game — including a shot by Engelland. Two more goals in the next six minutes left the building shaking, and the Knights cruised to a 5-2 win.
The healing would only pick up from there.
Because who could possibly have anticipated what was to come? The home-opening victory felt almost like a championship win at the time — a pinnacle moment for an expansion team that, if it had followed historical standards, would have settled into mediocrity and finished well short of making the playoffs.
But this team of castoffs, which would informally name itself the Golden Misfits, came together in a way that had never happened in professional sports.
The Knights won five of their next six games, rose to the top end of the division standings and refused to be shoved out.
How to explain what happened on the ice? It’s anybody’s guess. (Writing for The Guardian, hockey expert Sean McIndoe said: “The entire hockey world is completely perplexed by this. There’s no logical explanation.”)
But everything somehow fell into place — good selections in the expansion draft, effective trades, terrific coaching, fundamentally sound hockey, excellent teamwork and phenomenal goaltending by Marc-André Fleury made the team greater than the sum of its parts.
Regardless of how the wins were coming, though, the Golden Knights’ success fed fans’ passion that in turn fueled more victories, with T-Mobile becoming the loudest and most intimidating arena for visiting teams in the league. A city that had never had a professional sports franchise, and which went into the season facing questions about whether it would support hockey, had become the epicenter of the sport.
And now here we are, not only playing in the Stanley Cup Final but with massive momentum after going 12-3 in the playoffs.
This evening, as the final series gets underway, we’ll gather across the city — including at Toshiba Plaza, less than a mile from the site of the Oct. 1 shooting — and not only cheer for a victory but celebrate a promise kept.
We know other teams have become rallying points for communities that have faced tragedies, including the New York Yankees after 9/11 and the Houston Astros after Hurricane Maria, and we carry deep respect for them.
But while we admit we’re biased, we have to ask: Has there been a greater story in the history of sports than our Vegas Golden Knights?