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The Inaugural Run

A look back at the 2017-18 Vegas Golden Knights and their improbable run to the Stanley Cup

By Gary Lawless

The Vegas Golden Knights were not supposed to make the playoffs. They certainly weren't supposed to win a round. No one had them advancing to the Western Conference Final, let alone winning it and securing a berth in the Stanley Cup Final.

And yet, there they were late on the evening of May 28, 2018 holding a 1-0 lead over the Washington Capitals in the best-of-seven Stanley Cup Final.

This made-for-the-movies-season didn't end with a parade on Las Vegas Boulevard. The Capitals surged, erasing the Golden Knights early series lead and winning four straight to capture the first Cup in their franchise history.

Washington's win, however, was not the defining moment of the 2017-18 NHL season. The Capitals might have taken the final prize but the Golden Knights with their run to the Final were arguably the story of the year everywhere in the hockey world outside the District of Columbia.

While it was a time of glory for the Caps; it was also the end of an incredible journey from inception to near ultimate completion for the Golden Knights. An expansion franchise in the world's greatest hockey league embarking on one of the most improbable postseason runs in all of sports.

We took some time the last couple of weeks to take a look back and talk with key characters and observers of last year's run.

The Cast

Bill Foley, VGK Chairman & CEO
Kerry Bubolz, VGK President
Kelly McCrimmon, VGK Assistant GM
Jonny Greco, VGK VP of Entertainment Production
Nate Schmidt, VGK Defenseman
Jonathan Marchessault, VGK Forward
Brayden McNabb, VGK Defenseman
Marc-Andre Fleury, VGK Goaltender
Ryan Reaves, VGK Forward
Dave Goucher, TV Play-by-Play Announcer
Shane Hnidy, TV Color Analyst
Dan D'Uva, Radio Play-by-Play Announcer

The Games

ROUND 1
DATE HOME/
AWAY
OPPONENT SCORE OT
4/11/18 VS. 1-0  
4/13/18 VS. 2-1 2OT
4/15/18 @ 3-2  
4/17/18 @ 1-0  
ROUND 2
DATE HOME/
AWAY
OPPONENT SCORE OT
4/26/18 VS. 7-0  
4/28/18 VS. 3-4 2OT
4/30/18 @ 4-3 OT
5/2/18 @ 0-4  
5/4/18 VS. 5-3  
5/6/18 @ 3-0  
ROUND 3
DATE HOME/
AWAY
OPPONENT SCORE OT
5/12/18 @ 2-4  
5/14/18 @ 3-1  
5/16/18 VS. 4-2  
5/18/18 VS. 3-2  
5/20/18 @ 2-1  
ROUND 4
DATE HOME/
AWAY
OPPONENT SCORE OT
5/28/18 VS. 6-4  
5/30/18 VS. 2-3  
6/2/18 @ 1-3  
6/4/18 @ 2-6  
6/7/18 VS. 3-4  

Clinching & Round 1

Golden Knights Defeat Kings in Four Games

Vegas capped a historic inaugural regular season posting a 51-24-7 record. The club clinched a playoff berth with a 4-1 win against the Colorado Avalanche on March 26. A few days later, Vegas captured the Pacific Division and first pennant in team history with a 3-2 victory against the San Jose Sharks featuring William Karlsson's memorable between-the-legs shorthanded winner.

The first playoff series in Golden Knights history pit them against the wild card Los Angeles Kings and a true Pacific Division rivalry continued to take shape. Marc-Andre Fleury's shutout in Game 1 allowed Vegas to snatch a 1-0 series-opening win. A 1-1 tie lingered into the second overtime in Game 2 before Erik Haula's strike put Vegas in a frenzy. Vegas' 3-2 win in Game 3 at Staples Center set the stage for Fleury's second clean sheet of the series and Brayden McNabb's winner against his old team in Game 4 as the Golden Knights swept the Kings.

Clinching

Bill Foley: It was really exciting, but it was almost anticlimactic for me because I really felt like once we got through Thanksgiving, our run in December was so powerful. I was probably one of the few guys that just had so much confidence that we were going to be in the playoffs. I didn't know where we'd go once we got in the playoffs. When we beat the Avalanche, I thought it was fantastic. I thought it was great. I really thought we deserved to be in the playoffs. The guys were playing so great and so well together. They just had elevated all of their personal games to such a high level that I was confident.

 

Kelly McCrimmon: Well, as the season went on I guess there were different stages. Initially, there's the excitement of a good start, then the injuries to the goaltenders, always wondering if the bottom was going to drop right out. Then we got to December where I think we lost only one game that month. We beat some really good teams and, at that point, personally at least, I really started to feel that even if we hit a rough patch that we had enough of a foundation that we were going to push really hard to be a playoff team. The reality is that it's really hard to make the playoffs. That game against Colorado where we clinched our playoff spot, it was pretty special for everyone. Just the way things then came together and how quickly after that were able to win the division with the home ice win against San Jose. I didn't believe we were a playoff team until we had actually done it. Even though we had played well, and all the signs would point to us being one, I know that it's hard to make the playoffs so we didn't take it for granted. We were excited when it happened.

Karlsson scores to help Vegas Clinch Pacific Division

Dave Goucher: I'll tell you what surprised me the most about it. The courage he had to have to do it in that scenario. You know, shorthanded, tie-game, third period against San Jose to win the division and that's what kind of blew me away. I had to make sure I saw what I saw. I wasn't positive at first that he actually did that. So that was what more than anything I think blew me away about it was the circumstances and what was on the line. It could just as easily rolled off his stick and gone to the corner and then it would have looked terrible. But I was blown away by the guts it took to make that move in that situation in the game.

 

Shane Hnidy: Well, the ultimate is the Stanley Cup. That's what you aim for. But I think you know, different areas need to be checked off before you get there and first off is just getting a playoff spot. But obviously to win the division… let's just say this. For them to make a playoff position was monstrous. To clinch the division? That maybe is just a testament to this team and that group of guys, they were never satisfied, they just kept going. It was like everything they hit, every milestone or whatever they projected, it wasn't enough. They just kept going and going and maybe it was the mentality of "one game at a time, one day at a time" that they had all year. They didn't look back, they didn't look far ahead, just at that one moment and they enjoyed it but moved on from it quickly.

 

First home playoff game vs. Kings (VGK wins 1-0)

Nate Schmidt: There were a lot of teams that we could have played, and the Kings are just one of those teams that are in recent memory, those guys are veterans that have been there and guys that have won Cups and so you're thinking, 'Man, this is the series. This is the playoffs now, it doesn't matter. Your regular season prowess, how well you played, the points you had don't really carry over.' For me, I was unsure of what to expect because I knew we had a good team and I knew that the playoffs are a completely different animal. When we first saw L.A. we thought we were going against the big, bad Kings. A tough and heavy team, a veteran group. That it was going to be a heavy and hard series, never more than one-goal games. It was going to be a war of attrition.

You ask yourself: 'Are we for real?' Because you don't really know until you get into the playoffs and the thing that I've said, you can't just turn it on when it gets to the playoffs, you have to continue to play well, and we had done that, but it's a different ball game. It's a different brand that some guys might not have been used to. We didn't have a lot of guys with a lot of playoff experience. We were unsure of what to expect. Once we won that first game, I thought that we understood what the series was going to be like. It kind of gave us some clarity to how things could play out and what needed to be done in order to win the series.

Dave Goucher: No, you're not in Kansas anymore right? It was off the charts. It's funny, during the season we would talk a lot about how every game felt like a playoff game. I remember saying, "What's it going to be like when they're actually in the playoffs?" and they took it to a whole other level. The whole pregame presentation was different. Everything felt like it was cranked up another ten notches for that, their first ever playoff game. And you know, you wouldn't expect anything less of them. They do such a great job, the whole production team every game, to be able to turn it up even higher for the playoffs was unbelievable. I just remember… did Shea Theodore score early in that game?

 

Dan D'Uva: Three minutes, twenty-three seconds.

 

Dave Goucher: Yeah, right off the bat and that was enough right? That was it. So, remember he scored early and you're thinking, "Okay, here they go with it." And it turned out to be a lot tighter game than maybe I anticipated it would be.

Shane Hnidy: I say it all the time, there's not much that makes me want to get back on the ice, but playoffs. The energy as a player that you know is going to be in that building. The intensity, how much every play, every minute, every shift means out there. It's a different level of hockey. It's why you play the game. You grind out 82 games to get that chance to play in that scenario, to play for the Stanley Cup. But man, I miss playing in the playoffs. And the crowd. Every building, it goes to another level. I think my anticipation was, what are they going to do next? What can they do next here at T-Mobile? Production, fans, how do they take this up a level? And they did. I get excited now just to go to playoffs. There are no other playoffs like it. I think it's the hardest trophy to win. And it's the best sport, but I'm biased.

 

Dan D'Uva: The thought coming into the season would be, "how many former Kings fans that might have lived in Las Vegas would switch over and be Golden Knights fans?" And when the regular season meetings between the Knights and Kings occurred, the Knights had some fans in Los Angeles, but there were also a number of Kings fans at T-Mobile Arena and there was plenty of talk about that. That first playoff game with the Knights hosting the Kings there were very few Kings fans. Very, very few. Nothing like the dent that they made in the crowd during the regular season games so that's what struck me about the crowd. It's hard to kick it up a notch from what we saw. But when you consider that every regular season game was above capacity, above the fixed seating capacity and that game was 18,400 and change, it was a thousand over capacity. You couldn't squeeze more people without the fire marshal getting pissed at you. Shea Theodore scores that goal early, but it's worth remembering how good Jonathan Quick was. He suffered the loss and was the third star of the game.

The celly tho 🙌 📸 @jeffbottari

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Brayden McNabb: I was pretty excited. There were a lot of emotions scoring the goal at the time. You don't really think much about them giving you up in expansion at the time, but as the series ends, you kind of think about it. It felt pretty good. I know we played them well. That was a hard series. They played hard. They're a good team. Their goalie played outstanding and obviously so did ours. But yeah, that was a good team win for sure and it was good to get it in four, so we could get some rest. I don't know the stats, but I had only played five games in the playoffs before and I'm sure there were a lot of guys who were new to it. You know what it's like, but at the same time you've got a new team and you don't know how you will react as a group, but we reacted great. We played great and it started a great run.

Round 2

Vegas Finds A Way Through San Jose

The Golden Knights opened the second round with a bang in a 7-0 rout of San Jose in Game 1. Vegas wound up on the wrong end of a no-goal call in overtime of Game 2 and the Sharks tied the series. William Karlsson scored in overtime of Game 3 for a 2-1 series lead. Karlsson's goal was a work of art combining a great pass, speed and a laser of a shot. The fleet Swede took a feed from James Neal at center ice and then burned down the right side of the ice to uncork a wrist shot which beat Sharks goalie Martin Jones high on the blocker side.

The Sharks smelled blood and took Game 4 with a 4-0 win. Two goals from Alex Tuch helped Vegas take Game 5 with a 5-3 victory and Fleury's fourth shutout of the playoffs lifted the Golden Knights to a 3-0 win in San Jose to punch Vegas' ticket to the Western Conference Final.

7-0 win over Sharks in Game 1

Brayden McNabb: We had tons of energy. We were excited that we had a home crowd and we're pretty good on our home ice. Everything kind of lined up perfectly for us in that game. We brought a bunch of energy and we were able to put the puck in the net, so it was a good start to that series.

Marc-Andre Fleury: I think in my head it was just one of those nights. We had a lot of rest time after the L.A. games because we won that series in four games and we came out flying at home and the crowd was behind us. Everything was going right for us. It was nice to get a 1-0 lead in the beginning of the series. I never thought more than that though. I thought it was just the same as a 1-0 win and that's it. Winning is what it's all about. You're going to have to win games in different ways. Sometimes it'll be a 1-0 game and sometimes it might be a 5-4 game. I think you just got to stay in the game and be ready all night. It doesn't matter what the score is, just win that one and move on.

Jonny Greco: You have to raise the bar just like the guys on the ice. What we do for the fan experience, the entertainment and just creating home ice has to be elevated. The storylines and the narratives of playoff hockey is a great story. It's a great ride of drama and we listened to what was going on and celebrated the path and the journey and highlighted the key moments of creating home ice advantage to follow the narrative of the team on the ice.

 

Sharks bite back win Game 2 in double OT and VGK lose for first time in playoffs

Kelly McCrimmon: Well, losses at playoff time sting much more than losses in the regular season and yet it was really important that we focused on turning the page and moving on. Game 2, that's the game where the Marchessault goal was called back and they later scored, I believe Logan Couture through the seam. That one probably stung a little more because there was a brief moment where we thought we won Game 2. There's different steps in the process as you go through playoffs and losing your first game is one of those. Losing a game on home ice, now your opponent has home ice, that's part of it. Then going into San Jose winning Game 3 in overtime, that's both ends of the spectrum when you look at Game 2 and Game 3.

 

Marc-Andre Fleury: I try to forget those quickly. I couldn't tell you who scored. The important thing is moving past it and it starts with your body language, what you say, how you act, how you react and how you come to the rink the next day. It always stings to lose a game. That stung because it was double OT and because we could have been up 2-0 on a good team. Obviously that's a tough loss, but it's all about coming back the next day and putting a smile on your face. You have to put whatever happened to you the night before behind you and just get ready for the next one.

 

VGK win 3-0 in Game 6 and book berth in Western Conference Final

Bill Foley: It was unbelievable, and it was gigantic. I was proud of the guys and then knowing they were going to the Conference Final. I always thought we'd be playing Winnipeg because I felt that they were the most dangerous team in the league all year.

 

Kelly McCrimmon: The playoffs make you better, so by the time we finished our sixth game against San Jose we were a much better team than we were when the playoffs started and that's what happens to teams that enjoy success at playoff time. You get better. So, San Jose for me gave us a tremendous series. I thought their team was extremely well-coached, well-balanced, had star power; it was a real tough environment on home ice and yet we won two games in there. I think as that series concluded it was first and foremost always fantastic to win and to move on, and at the same time almost a little bit surreal that we were going to the Western Conference Final.

Marc-Andre Fleury: It was a great feeling. The Sharks were and still are a very good team and for us to beat them in six games and for a team that had nothing expected of them right from the start of the season... I don't think many people gave us a chance to beat them. It was a great feeling but once you're there though it's nice, it's a good feeling and everything, but you want to get going.

 

Dave Goucher: Well I was happy they avoided a seventh game. We've all lived through enough of them and it can take one fluke bounce, one bad break and your season's over and your team's out. So, I just remember, I thought that San Jose… and it's funny after they won Game 1 7-0, I remember thinking, "There's no way this series is going to be that easy." And I think it was Game 3 where the Golden Knights had a lead in the game, blew it late, Shane and I were in the runway and Karlsson scored in overtime to win the game. We were getting ready to do some postgame TV stuff and then Karlsson scored in overtime to win the game. I just remember after they beat San Jose thinking, "wow, they just beat a really, really, really good team."

Round 3

Western Conference Final

Golden Knights Oust Jets in Five

Winnipeg flexed its muscles in Game 1 of the Western Conference Final, but Jonathan Marchessault scored twice in Game 2 as Vegas tied the series. The series shifted to T-Mobile Arena where Fleury shone as the Golden Knights put Winnipeg on the brink with a 4-2 win in Game 3 and a 3-2 triumph in Game 4. Alex Tuch started the scoring in Game 5 and, after the Jets tied the game, Ryan Reaves scored his first goal of the playoffs to punch Vegas' ticket to the Stanley Cup Final.

Game 1 - The Whiteout prevails as Jets win series opener

Ryan Reaves: I think being my hometown, I had a lot of friends and family and I hoped I could spot the black in the Whiteout because it's a little bit intimidating, I guess. It's a small building so it gets really loud in there. I don't know exactly what moment in the game it was, but it might have been when they took the lead, I'm not sure, but at one point I was like, 'Man, I might have to cover my ears here.' It was that loud and I don't think I've ever heard a building that loud. Vegas definitely gets like that, but I think just because of the size of the building there it just got a little more amplified. It was intimidating at first, but I think the thing with this team was that nothing really flustered us.

Marc-Andre Fleury: We all heard and watched them play and saw how good they were. Again, nobody saw us going through them. I think they have a big team that's fast with a lot of skill. They're very dangerous and in that first game they brought it to us and I think many people thought that they had us. But to us, it was a wake-up call and everybody brought a better game to Game 2 and from there on I thought we played great through the whole series.

Kelly McCrimmon: When you go in a series there's so many key moments and Game 1 was over early. We did play probably better for the final 50 minutes of that game than anyone realized and yet, even if you did realize that we played OK those final 50 minutes, you might have attributed it to the fact that Winnipeg had the game in hand. Going into Game 2, it felt like winning Game 3 in San Jose after we lost Game 2, it was just a real important win. Every win is so hard to come by and so important in the context of a series. So for me, if we lose Game 2 we've got to win four of the next five games to win the series. I thought our coaches and our players couldn't have been more prepared for game two. We scored first. We were able to go on to win game two to get a split in the series and that really changed that series.

 

Nate Schmidt: It felt like the whole city was coming down on us when we first flew into Winnipeg. I actually felt the most confident about that series than I had about the previous two. It's not that I didn't think that we couldn't have won the previous two, but we had played those other teams so much. We had played well against Winnipeg during the season. But when you first get in there you can't really explain how the fans are going to be or how the city is going to react to us being there until you get there. It was a lot of pressure and a lot of things in the city that just screamed "Jets Hockey" and they were fired up. Everywhere we went we heard about it. People were talking about it, so it was a much grander scale than what we had been used to playing in L.A. and playing in San Jose. It was a big series regardless. It was the only thing going on and it was the only thing people were talking about. We couldn't go anywhere without hearing about it. It was the marquee part of the spring in Winnipeg. From the anthems to the drop of the puck, it felt like a palpable hue of anticipation. We were a little bit shaken from it from to start the series. We were just shaken out of our game. They came out really hard and we knew they were going to come out hard, but we just weren't sure what type of pushback we were going to get.

 

Game 2 - VGK bites back

Bill Foley: I just thought our guys would really have to dig deep and play hard if we were going to steal a game up in Winnipeg because I felt if we went down two-zip and came home it would be tough. We came out and won that second game and stunned Winnipeg. You could see it, it was just a stunned reaction when the Golden Knights won the second game. At that point I thought, "We're in it. We could actually do this." despite the fact I still felt like Winnipeg was the best surviving team at that point in terms of talent. Their talent level, their intensity and their desire to win, but we got it done against them.

Dan D'Uva: I flew home to New Jersey for my brother's wedding before we knew if the Knights would play Nashville or Winnipeg. So, I'm sitting there on a couch in New Jersey watching the last game of that series and as soon as the game ended I started to try and figure out booking a flight to get from New York to Winnipeg. And I got the flight, my luggage didn't make it. So, I got to Winnipeg in time for Game 2, but my suitcase was stuck in Montreal. So, the morning of Game 2, I went to Hudson Bay to get a whole new outfit and apparently it was well received because the team won the next four in a row. And I'll tell you what I remember about it, how calm the group seemed to be even trailing by a game. And that they didn't get all worked up or overly nervous or overly anxious, and the Knights are then on the verge of clinching Game 5. For my pregame interview I wanted to talk with Jonathan Marchessault. Jonathan has never said no to an interview but he's a busy guy, so I have to do my interview in the midst of his pregame massage on Raul Dorantes' table. So, Raul's going to start working on Jonathan on the massage table and Jonathan says, "Oh but I've got to do Dan's interview so let's do it at the same time." Raul brings the table out into the hallway and proceeds to start working on Jonathan, I hit record on the microphone and I begin to interview Marchessault and we dropped in subtle hints, "Jonathan you must be really relaxed right now going into Game 5." And he said, "Oh yeah." And I thought that was a moment that stands out to encapsulate the feeling that the group had.

 

Jonathan Marchessault: I felt disappointed after losing Game 1, a little pissed off too. I remember when we got off of the bus and everybody was booing us at the restaurant of the hotel. I remember that feeling and I thought "Tomorrow we're going to break up their party." I think we were a confident group still. We were facing the best team in the league at that time. But obviously we were disappointed but at midnight you turn the page because it's playoffs. It doesn't matter if you lose 10-1 or 2-1, it's the same result. I think we responded well. I take a lot of pride in giving my best effort in the playoffs. That's what every hockey player is living for, their playoff moment. When you're in it, you need to give it your all. I think we knew it was a big game and I just wanted to show up to help my teammates to win that big game in Game 2.

The Western Conference Final is alllll even now 🙌👏

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Game 3 - Series shifts back to Vegas and the Golden Knights put their stamp on the playoffs on and off the ice

The Golden Knights earned a split in Winnipeg and returned to Vegas to play Game 3 and 4 at T-Mobile Arena. National TV audiences in the U.S. and Canada tuned in to see what hockey in Vegas was all about the show did not disappoint.

Kerry Bubolz: Jonny Greco who leads our game presentation team and I were sitting with Bill Foley and we were walking through our vision for playing Winnipeg. We were basically walking through how this plane was going to ultimately land on the ice through our projection system and then the plane was going to face off against our Knight as a part of the on-ice presentation and that the plane was going to charge the Knight and then it was going to split in half and crash into the boards. So we walk through the whole sequence and of course Jonny is doing it with unbelievable enthusiasm and energy and then the only words that come out of Bill's mouth are "sounds complicated." And that was it. That was our thumbs up to kind of move forward.

We play Game 3, we go through the presentation and to me it was the first time that externally people were like, "Wow. That was pretty awesome." My favorite moment was that next morning after the game. We thought it went well, but we weren't sure because we hadn't talked to Bill. Bill walked into the office with all of our game ops crew and he basically said, "That was fantastic!" Here's the owner coming into their office to say "great job." That for me was the defining moment and defining story that I remember from the playoffs.

 

Fleury stones Winnipeg in Games 3 & 4

The Jets were desperate to earn a win in Vegas but the Golden Knights, led by some incredible play in goal from Marc-Andre Fleury took both games to take a 3-1 lead in the series.

Brayden McNabb: Yeah, I was on for that. I think that was my guy [Mark Scheifele] too. The first one I'm thinking, "Oh no. That was a great save," and then the puck went right back to Scheifele and I tried to come diving across to block it. Flower was able to come back and save it. I think I gave him a nice tap on the head after that one though. That was pretty cool.

Marc-Andre Fleury: Those are the fun ones. Once you're there the stakes are so high and you're playing against great players and when you can make those saves I think that's so fun for a goalie. When you can make a save that people think the puck's going to go in the net and you stop it and stop it again. It's a good feeling inside.

 

Shane Hnidy: It really is those types of saves that can deflate a team, right? And it's the ones I'm sure Mark Scheifele had to think about. And it wasn't just one save, it was in succession, robbing one of their top goal scorers. It took wind out of their sails. I believe if you look for a deflating moment in a series that was it for the Winnipeg Jets. Marc-Andre Fleury was the MVP all year long and he has experience in big moments. We see the nice Marc-Andre Fleury all the time, he's one of the greatest humans you'll find. But he's also ultra competitive. You want to see him angry? Look at him after a loss or a goal he doesn't like. He hates to lose and that's what makes him… well he's going to be a Hall of Fame goaltender.

 

Game 5 - Reaves with the dagger in his hometown

Ryan Reaves was traded from Pittsburgh to Vegas at the deadline. He was a healthy scratch early in the playoffs but was inserted late in the San Jose series and immediately had an impact with his physical play. In Game 5 against his hometown team, Reaves got on the scoreboard to propel the Golden Knights to the Stanley Cup.

Ryan Reaves: That was probably the biggest goal of my career. It probably will be the biggest goal of my career. I hadn't scored on this team yet and it was almost two months. You know, you go and trade for this prolific goal scorer, and he doesn't score any goals, so it was about time that I went and did something. Being able to do that in a game like that in front of my friends and family in my hometown was a special moment that sometimes I play through in my head over and over. It was a moment that I'll definitely never forget.

The little expansion team that could

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Jonathan Marchessault: For me I think it was the best moment of my life, hockey-wise to date. Winning meant we were going to the Stanley Cup Final, there's two teams left. It was one of the proudest moments of my life for my personal career and especially for our team. We went against all odds to get there. I remember just feeling so proud of every single guy that was in that locker room. I would do anything for them.

 

Kelly McCrimmon: The first emotions or thoughts that you have was just how special of a feeling it was to be advancing to the Stanley Cup Final. I mentioned that the San Jose series was almost surreal. I felt the same way after we advanced to the Final. Past that I've always had so much regard for Winnipeg right from Mark Chipman to Kevin Cheveldayoff, Craig Heisinger. I think their coaching staff with Paul Maurice does a really, really good job. To win twice in their building which is one of the hardest buildings to win in was just a tremendous accomplishment and then again in Game 5. We won two games in Winnipeg's building over the course of that series, that's a pretty good accomplishment and obviously the big reason that we won.

Marc-Andre Fleury: They're a very good team and very dangerous. It didn't matter what the series score was, we needed to finish it because we knew they could win some games and come back. So once we were in a position to close out, it was important for us to get it done. In Game 5, I thought we played very tight, very well and it was a close game but we got the best of them.

The Final

Round 4: Season One Story Ends in Final Loss to Washington

The magic that propelled the Golden Knights through the Western Conference lasted through Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final as they topped the Washington Capitals, 6-4, at T-Mobile Arena. The Capitals earned the split in Game 2, grinded Vegas down in Game 3 and laid down the hammer in a 6-2 win in Game 4. With their backs against the wall, the Golden Knights carried a 3-2 lead into the third period of Game 5, but the Capitals scored twice in the final 10 minutes to etch their names in Lord Stanley's Cup.

Winning Game 1

Kerry Bubolz: We knew we had a lot of attention obviously with NBC and the games being on national TV and then everything that we had been planning with the league to introduce the Stanley Cup. Those moments prior to pregame with our pregame concerts and all of the different activities that we wanted to do, there were just a lot of moving parts and a lot of logistics. Then on top of that, we kind of had gotten everybody's attention the previous round with our player introductions. We wanted to have another unique element, so we were really brainstorming hard like "How do we take this up another notch?" and two things that we added, one was just with the Capitals and their mascot character, we actually flew their bad guy up into the arena as part of the moment where they engage with our Knight on the ice. The other thing is we added a catapult to our presentation so we bombarded the bad guy from the Capitals with video cannonballs from an actual catapult that we built up into the top of part of the arena. Obviously that first game was incredible. It was Memorial Day and we had Lee Greenwood who was here to ultimately do his favorite song, "Proud to be an American" and so it was a special day for everybody. Michael Buffer gave the player intros, that was a very Vegas moment.

Nate Schmidt: What's funny is that I was sitting with Erik Haula at his place and we were talking about it and we were watching Game 7 from the Tampa Bay Lightning series and I said, "It doesn't really matter who we play, I think we have a great chance against both teams." And I remember him saying "I think it's really hard to play against your old team because you just never know. And you know all the guys and that makes it just more difficult." I thought to myself before the series that it was going to be easy and it wasn't. It was tough because of everything you had been through with a lot of the guys there. I think it would be harder for George McPhee to sit and watch because he put most of that team together. He groomed all those now veteran, older guys the whole time he was there. But it was much harder than I thought it was going to be.

 

Save of the season and Caps win Game 2

Late in Game 2 with Vegas trailing 3-2, Capitals goalie Braden Holtby miraculously made the save of the 2018-19 season to preserve their lead and the visitors were able to hold on and win.

Kelly McCrimmon: It's the reverse of the Winnipeg series. We won Game 1 . If we could have held serve on home ice and won Game 2 it'd put Washington in a position where they have to win four out of five games and that's a much different challenge. By them winning that game and getting the split, it's exactly the scenario that we put ourselves in with the Winnipeg series. Interestingly, we lost game one against Winnipeg and won the next four, we won game one against Washington and lost the next four.

Brayden McNabb: We felt like we should have came out with a win in that game. We should have been up two going to Washington. Even Game 1 was a little sloppy. We weren't really in our game and I think both teams were sloppy. I think we were just able to score. We kind of lost our game to be honest with you and it started to show more in Game 2. It's frustrating looking back to get so close and to lose your game in the finals. It stings for sure. It hurts but this year it's been motivation. We know how to handle ourselves.

 

Game 3 - Kuznetsov returns

Dave Goucher: I don't think either team was crazy about how they played in Game 1. The Golden Knights won it, but hearing Gallant's comments and Barry Trotz's, I don't think either coach was pleased with how it went. It's hard to kind of overlook Game 2 if Holtby doesn't make that save late… again we're never going to know how it would have gone but that was a huge moment in that series, the save Holtby made. So then, Kuznetsov had been out a few games, if he's not the Capitals best player he's in the top three with Ovechkin…

Shane Hnidy: I mean Vegas was aware of the type of player Kuznetsov was. It's a huge boost for the Capitals, right? This is one of your top players coming back. A guy that can command the game. For me he was the Conn Smythe. They had so much talent on that team. He is the type of guy that changes your whole team.

Marc-Andre Fleury: I don't have an explanation or have any excuses. I think it probably wasn't our best hockey. I think they were able to frustrate us and they were able to keep us from getting those chances that we were getting before and they were scoring a lot of goals. They were very creative offensively making those cross-side passes and finding the net. We just couldn't put ourselves back in the game in that series.

 

Caps win Cup

Washington won Game 4 on its home ice and then mounted a third-period comeback win on T-Mobile ice to win Game 5 and capture the Stanley Cup.

Nate Schmidt: I didn't watch an ounce of any of the celebrations but that being said, it took me a week to kind of put everything away and put everything aside and once I got through that I realized that I could put hockey away for a second and be happy for the friends that I had. There are some guys there that I had a lot of great relationships with and I'll still have good relationships with that I was genuinely happy for. I've got to tell you, one of the hardest things I've ever had to do in my life was being able to put away being a hockey player and pull out being a friend for someone that I truly was happy for. Some of those guys we were around everyday.

Marc-Andre Fleury: It's the worst thing. It's such a long grind. It's tough mentally, it's tough physically. The pressure, the stress, it's intense, it's fun. You get beat up and stuff but it's so rewarding and fun to win the Cup. Once you come so close and knowing what it feels like to win it's even more frustrating. It's tough to have to deal with it, hear about it all summer and next season until now. I think we got beat by a better team.

Jonathan Marchessault: It was heartbreaking. You don't want to finish a year having any regrets. Honestly, as much as we can find a lot of positives in our season last year at the end of the day, if you don't have a smile at the end of your hockey season, I don't think you can be necessarily happy. Obviously, it was great but there was a lot of disappointment and sadness.

 

 

Stick Salute

The Golden Knights hosted a Stick Salute to honor their fans on the evening of June 13. More than 7,500 fans showed up on Fremont Street to share the moment with their team.

Bill Foley: I was downstairs with the guys talking to a few of them and I felt this deep, empty feeling in my stomach. It was like, "Wow. We got all this way and we didn't get it done and it's so empty." I went up to [VP of Marketing and Community Relations] Kim Frank and I said, "Kim, we've got to do something. We're not going to have a parade, but we need to have some sort of event or do something for the fans, so they know that we appreciate the support they gave us during this whole season and that it's not over. We're going to go forward and we're going to try and do it again, and do it again, and do it again. We're going to keep at this." I thought it was really good to get together and thank the community. I believe it worked out well. I believe that there was a good response. When we got through the event, it was like, "OK, now we can move on, we can start putting this behind us. We don't have to think about it. We don't have to commiserate. We don't need to think about that anymore. Let's think about next year. Let's get ready."

 

Jonathan Marchessault: That moment after Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final had passed a little bit. It was still sour, but the fans were there for us and in that moment, we just wanted to be there for the fans, thank them and just try to be there for them because they were there for us all year. Nothing's ever going to replace that feeling, even on that day. I'm always going to have some regret of the Stanley Cup Final. It's something that you have for the rest of your life and I think every single guy in the locker room is willing to battle to be winners.

Nate Schmidt: There were a lot of emotions because we really wanted to provide something for this city and at that time a Stanley Cup was the only answer, but it took a little bit to realize that it was already done. Our mark had already been made on this city and they had already made their mark on us. It actually gives me goosebumps thinking about it because being able to bring something more than just hockey and bring a sense of community is probably the thing I'm most proud of from what we did last year. To give something for people to look away from after everything that happened and to be a part of something and to have something to rally around and that was us. It was one of the most special things. I remember Barry Trotz telling me when I left and right after I got drafted "This is going to be the most fun year you'll ever have in your life. No matter how you guys play. If you're the worst team in the league or the best team, it doesn't matter. It'll be the most fun you've ever had playing hockey.' At the time I thought "I don't know why. I'm not going to know any of these guys." But he said "Everything is going to be new for everyone. Every day is going to be a new journey for everybody." And at the end of the year that's what I thought back on. This was the most fun I've ever had playing hockey, even when we lost on the biggest stage just because it was more than just what we had gone through as a community. It was more than the rink, it was much more than that. It made me proud of being here and being a part of this.

 

Shane Hnidy: Well, losing sucks. It's terrible. I said this: "You know, every team, starting the year you go in and you've got your meetings right from training camp your goal is to win the Stanley Cup." That's the goal of every single team, every meeting that starts in training camp and every coach builds to win the Stanley Cup. So anything short of that is a lost season. And it hurts the further you go to lose if you don't carry that. I believe that this is the first time in history that the losing team had a huge successful year. To me, yes raising that Stanley Cup, and the players will disagree, that would have been fantastic, but this was more than that. And Dave touched on it with what happened on 1 October. A group of guys that were castoffs, not wanted, overcoming astronomical odds, putting together a historic season. You know, becoming ingrained into a community in a city that hadn't had a pro sports team. The fans, the lovefest between the fans and the players and the city and the team and the logo, the gear. Things like that don't happen every year. And yes, winning the Stanley Cup is the ultimate prize, but last year it was more than a Stanley Cup. And to me, I know it'll suck and the players and the management will disagree. But last year was one of the most successful seasons. I said I won the Stanley Cup, but I joined that team late. Last year was the most rewarding, fulfilling season I had ever been a part of. It really was. And that's with not taking home the big prize at the end. Because of everything Las Vegas, the city, needed, everything these players did, the organization did.

 

Looking Forward

The Golden Knights have qualified for the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs and will begin play in San Jose in Game 1 of a best-of-seven series.

Marc-Andre Fleury: It's good to be a hockey player. It was so much fun last year, our fans are crazy. They're so loud and during the game the atmosphere in the building is awesome. The parties before the games outside are insane. I'm looking forward to it, I think it's the best time of the year. Everything is intense, everything's hyped a little bit and the games are fun to play. It's another chance.