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Gallant having happy anniversary with Golden Knights in playoffs

Has Vegas in position for long run one year after being hired as coach

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

LAS VEGAS -- One year ago, on April 13, 2017, the Vegas Golden Knights hired Gerard Gallant as coach. At his introductory press conference, he was asked about owner Bill Foley's goal of making the Stanley Cup Playoffs in three years. First he'd heard of it.

"Hopefully that happens," he said.

Gallant didn't know who his players would be, let alone what they would become -- that they would shatter records for first-year teams, finish first in the Pacific Division and lead the Los Angeles Kings 1-0 entering Game 2 of the best-of-7 Western Conference First Round at T-Mobile Arena on Friday (10 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVAS, ATTSN-RM, PRIME).

The NHL Expansion Draft was more favorable to Vegas than to past expansion teams, and management selected the right mix of players.


[RELATED: Doughty suspension will test Kings depth in Game 2 | Complete Golden Knights vs. Kings series coverage]


Gallant took castoffs from other teams and brought them together. Knowing he had few stars but lots of depth, he rolled four lines and three defense pairs, making everyone feel relatively equal and involved. He kept an open mind, put individuals in new roles and helped them improve. Thirteen skaters had their NHL career high in points; 10 had their NHL career high in goals.

He kept the players focused and the atmosphere light, refusing to talk about the playoffs all season and telling the players they had no pressure on them once the playoffs began.

"From a fellow coach, you've got to really admire the job that he's done this year," Kings coach John Stevens said. "I mean, you can just give him the award right now."

The award, of course, is the Jack Adams, which goes to the NHL coach of the year.

Gallant uses the same simple phases over and over -- have fun, work hard, worry about the next game -- and says he isn't smart enough to change his approach or match wits with other coaches. But he's far more sophisticated than he projects, and his personality endears him to his players.

Video: Breaking down the Golden Knights' victory in Game 1

"I think the players like playing for Gerard because he knows what he's talking about," general manager George McPhee said. "The team plays the game the right way in terms of how we approach it in systems play and everything else. He's not a guy to be trifled with. They respect him because he respects them. He treats them right."

Gallant is verbal on the bench, firing one-liners, making the players laugh at times because of what he says and how he says it.

If a player makes a mistake, Gallant will let him know. But that's it.

"He'll say something to a certain guy, and two minutes later, he probably doesn't even remember he said it," defenseman Luca Sbisa said. "And that's in a good way. He doesn't hold grudges.

"I think that's why we're playing well. It's not like you do something and then you think about it all day, you go home, like, 'What's the coach thinking about that?' He doesn't work that way."

In the regular-season finale at the Calgary Flames on Saturday, Alex Tuch jumped onto the ice when left wing Tomas Tatar came back to the bench, even though he had switched to right wing midgame. Left wing William Carrier jumped onto to the ice too, and the Golden Knights were called for too many men.

"I go, 'It's my fault,'" Tuch said. "He goes, 'All right. Go serve it.' So I served it, came back. He gave me [grief], and then after that, nothing else.

Video: LAK@VGK, Gm1: Theodore nets first Vegas playoff goal

"It helps a ton, because if he's not thinking about it, you don't have to think about it. You can put it behind you."

Does Gallant have a doghouse?

"I honestly don't think so," forward Erik Haula said. "He can tell you off one day, and the next day he'll be joking around with you. He's been like that all year, and he's been like that for forever, I hear."

This is what Gallant has always done, and it has worked before. He won the Memorial Cup with St. John of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in 2011 and took the Florida Panthers to the playoffs for the first time in four seasons in 2015-16, when he was runner-up for the Jack Adams.

"Maybe I have a little more patience than some coaches, but I think especially with young hockey players, they're going to make mistakes and that's part of our game," Gallant said.

"You've got to let guys play. I think it gives them more confidence. You don't need guys feeling bad about themselves and feeling bad about your team losing a game because they made a bad play. Everybody makes bad plays."

Funny how Gallant's teams make fewer than others.

"I just think confidence is the biggest key in sports, in all sports," Haula said. "If you can keep guys confident, that's going to help the team. He's done a good job of that."

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