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Golden Knights don't want to talk about playoffs

Vegas has best record in Western Conference, but mum's the word when it comes to postseason

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist

LAS VEGAS -- Gerard Gallant is no Jim Mora. The Vegas Golden Knights coach is not like the Indianapolis Colts coach was in 2001, ranting in a NFL press conference, "Playoffs? Don't talk about … Playoffs? You kidding me? Playoffs?"

Gallant actually has the opposite problem Mora did. Reporters are asking him and his players about the playoffs because the Golden Knights are good -- not for an expansion team, for any team.

Still, he won't bite.

"I don't want to talk about the playoffs," Gallant said in a press conference the other day.

"Why not?" he was pressed playfully.

"What reason?" he said. "Why would we talk about playoffs? We're a long way from the playoffs."

Well, yes and no.

The Golden Knights are 29-10-3. They have 61 points through 42 games, on pace for 119 in 82. Entering their game at the Nashville Predators on Tuesday (8 p.m. ET; SN, FS-TN, ATTSN-RM, NHL.TV), the Golden Knights are first in the Pacific Division with a seven-point lead and three games in hand on the second-place Calgary Flames. They are first in the Western Conference with a two-point lead and four games in hand on the Winnipeg Jets.

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The NHL started awarding a point for an overtime loss in 1999-2000. From then through last season, 23 teams had at least 61 points through 42 games. Guess how many missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs?

None.

The lowest point total any of those teams finished with, not including the 48-game season in 2012-13, was 103 by the 2001-02 St. Louis Blues and 2009-10 New Jersey Devils. And those Blues didn't have the benefit of shootouts.

Playoffs? The Golden Knights could be aiming higher. They could be talking about home-ice advantage for as many as four rounds. They are four points behind the League-leading Tampa Bay Lightning and have two games in hand. They have the best home record in the NHL at 18-2-2.

Yeah, Gallant won't bite on that, either.

"Not worried about it," he said. "Not worried about it."

 

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It's not that the Golden Knights have a lack of ambition or belief.

One off day in training camp, forward James Neal traveled to Sonoma County, California, and visited the Chalk Hill winery and its proprietor: Golden Knights owner Bill Foley. After filming part of a video series called "Corks and Forks" about pairing wine and food, Neal and Foley sat down for dinner.

"We should be competitive," Foley told Neal. "We're not going to embarrass ourselves."

"What do you mean?" Neal asked.

"Well, it's an expansion team," Foley said

"We're going to make the playoffs." Neal said. 

After the Golden Knights started 8-1-0, defenseman Luca Sbisa was asked if they could make the playoffs.

"Yeah," Sbisa said. "Hundred percent."

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It's not like the Golden Knights are unaware of the standings, either.

Even Gallant hints at the playoffs as he avoids the word.

"The first half means nothing if you don't pick it up in the second half and you don't go to the ultimate goal," Gallant said. "Keep working hard, playing hard, and get as many points as we can, and we'll see where it takes us."

Ultimate goal? Get as many points as we can? See where it takes us?

Hmmm.

But at some point during the hot start, as reporters started to bring up the subject, Gallant instructed his players to avoid it. When one slipped, Gallant joked he would fine him. At least it seemed like he was joking.

And it makes sense on multiple levels. The Golden Knights have had success with one-game-at-a-time focus. They have a lot of youth, a lot of players in higher roles than they're used to. It's only going to get harder from here as the race heats up in the second half.

"You don't want to jinx anything, I guess," said goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, a three-time Stanley Cup champion with the Pittsburgh Penguins. "I think we've talked about it, though: Focus on the next game.

"We still have a young team, and it's important nobody's taking their mind off our goal. That's winning the next game. That's where our focus has to be. If we do that -- get ready for one game at a time -- I think we'll create good habits, confidence, and when playoffs rolls around, we'll be ready."

This is also the rare time when a team has no expectations -- not low expectations, no expectations.

We're always in a hurry to set the bar. Each time the Stanley Cup is won, we ask the general manager, on the ice, amid the celebration, if his team can repeat. Next season, we'll measure the Golden Knights against this one. Heck, we might start measuring their second half against their first.

Why rush it, especially the way it's going?

"If you've been around hockey for a long time, you read a lot of stories, and a lot of the stories are the same," general manager George McPhee said. "It's just a different year, a different player, a different team. This one's unique. We've never really seen this before. So why not enjoy it? And why not keep doing what we're doing?"

Playoffs? Don't talk about … Playoffs? You kidding me? Playoffs?

"I don't really want to talk about it for the sole fact that we're having so much fun in this room with our guys every day," defenseman Nate Schmidt said. "If you start talking about it, you're hitting the fast-forward button on the year, and I don't really want to do that because of how cool our room has been. You don't get these times back. It goes too fast."

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