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Golden Knights timeline for success exceeded all expectations

Reach Stanley Cup Final in inaugural season, set several NHL records for first-year team

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

CALGARY -- The Vegas Golden Knights exceed expectations by their very existence.

Businessman Bill Foley was motoring his pontoon boat around Whitefish Lake in Montana in August 2013 when he spotted his friend and neighbor Murray Craven. Foley had come back from a meeting about the possibility of putting an NHL expansion team in Las Vegas; Craven had played 1,071 games in the League from 1982-99.

Foley asked Craven what he thought.

"He said, 'Crazy. You're crazy,'" Foley said. "Actually, he said something that was a little more explicit."

So how bleeping crazy is this?

The Golden Knights, after a remarkable regular season, reached the Stanley Cup Final with a 2-1 win against the Winnipeg Jets in Game 5 of the Western Conference Final on May 20.

Video: VGK@WPG, Gm5: Engelland, Vegas awarded Campbell Bowl

The dream season ended in the Cup Final when the Washington Capitals defeated the Golden Knights 3-2 in Game 5 to win the title.

Here's how the Golden Knights got to this point:

 

Dec. 8, 2014: NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announces the Board of Governors has no objection to Foley conducting a season-ticket drive to help gauge the viability of the Las Vegas market. Foley's group lands more than 14,000 season-ticket deposits and sells out its suites.

 

June 22, 2016: The NHL awards an expansion franchise to Las Vegas.

"We should be able to field a very competitive team in Year 1, and we'll make the playoffs just as fast as we can," Foley says.

 

July 13, 2016: Foley hires general manager George McPhee, who says he wants a team that attacks all the time.

"Our mission here is clear: We're going to build an organization and a team that people and Las Vegas will be very, very proud of, and we're going to do it quickly, and we're aiming at the Stanley Cup," McPhee says. "That simple."

 

Nov. 22, 2016: Foley unveils the name "Vegas Golden Knights," the logo and the colors.

"The Knight never gives up, never gives in, always advances, never retreats, and that's what our team's going to be," Foley says.

 

April 13, 2017: McPhee hires coach Gerard Gallant, the runner-up for the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year with the Florida Panthers in 2015-16.

Asked about Foley's goal of making the playoffs in three years, Gallant says, "Hopefully that happens."

 

June 20, 2017: The Golden Knights unveil their uniforms.

"Now we're part of the League," Foley says. "This is really fantastic."

 

June 21, 2017: The NHL Expansion Draft rules are more favorable to Vegas than they have been to teams in the past. The Golden Knights take advantage, selecting players like Neal and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, but no one knows yet quite how well they've done and will do.

"I think they're going to be competitive," Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby says.

 

Sept. 14, 2017: The veterans report to training camp.

"It's a blank canvas," McPhee says. "We'd love to paint a masterpiece, and it starts this month. We believe that we acquired really good players in the expansion draft, and now it's up to them to show us."

 

September 2017: Foley and Neal chat about the team on an off day in camp.

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

"What do you mean?" Neal asks.

"Well, it's an expansion team," Foley says.

"We're going to make the playoffs," Neal says.

 

Oct. 1, 2017: A gunman opens fire on a country music festival just down the Strip from T-Mobile Arena, killing 58 and injuring 489. Some players are locked down in a restaurant nearby after their preseason finale.

The Golden Knights cancel a Fan Fest scheduled for Oct. 3 and visit victims, their families, first responders and blood banks.

"It's such a tragedy," Fleury says. "We can't undo what happened. We'll do our best. We'll work as hard as we can to make the city proud of us and try to maybe get a little change of mind a bit when they come to a game."

 

Oct. 6, 2017: The Golden Knights win their inaugural game 2-1 at the Dallas Stars, thanks to 45 saves by Fleury and two third-period goals by Neal.

"Being a new team, we have a lot of new fans, a lot of people affected by what happened," Neal says. "Hopefully they tuned in tonight and it could put a smile on their face, because we're playing for our city. It's going to be a lot of fun this year."

 

Oct. 10, 2017: The Golden Knights hold a moving pregame ceremony before their home opener, including a 58-second moment of silence and a speech by defenseman Deryk Engelland, a Las Vegas resident.

"We are Vegas Strong," he says.

The Golden Knights ride the emotion to a 4-0 lead and 5-2 win against the Arizona Coyotes, becoming the NHL first team to start its inaugural season 3-0-0.

Video: Engelland gives rousing speech to hometown fans

 

Oct. 27, 2017: Gallant is asked if the Golden Knights have to stay hungry coming off wins against the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks.

"No," he says. "Not at all. I mean, we started … We're the 31st team. We're an expansion team. Everybody's better than us."

Then the Golden Knights defeat the Colorado Avalanche 7-0. They're 8-1-0, have the best record in the NHL in terms of points percentage (.875) and are the first team in NHL history to win eight of its first nine games in its inaugural season.

Asked if they can make the playoffs, defenseman Luca Sbisa says, "Hundred percent."

 

Nov. 14, 2017: After injuries strike, the Golden Knights play their fifth goaltender, 19-year-old prospect Dylan Ferguson, during an 8-2 loss at the Edmonton Oilers. They're 2-5-1 since that 8-1-0 start.

"I thought they were toast," Dallas Stars GM Jim Nill says later.

They rebound to win their next five games.

 

Jan. 2, 2018: The Golden Knights defeat the Nashville Predators 3-0. They have won eight straight and are 12-0-1 in their past 13 games.

"I mean, I'm telling you, I don't know if we would have believed it, either," defenseman Nate Schmidt says with a laugh.

 

Jan. 14, 2018: The Golden Knights hold the Fan Fest originally scheduled for Oct. 3. It draws 10,000 people.

"I don't think anyone thought we'd be where we are today," Foley says. "I pinch myself."

 

Feb. 1, 2018: The Golden Knights earn their 34th win by defeating the Winnipeg Jets 3-2 in overtime, breaking the record for first-year teams set by the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and Florida Panthers in 1993-94. They still have 32 games to go.

"It's fun," Fleury says. "We're not talking about breaking records and reaching records. We're just focusing on improving as a team, playing well as a team every night, trying to be consistent as a team, and good things like this will happen."

Video: The guys discuss a record breaking win for Vegas

 

Feb. 21, 2018: The Golden Knights earn their 84th point by defeating the Calgary Flames 7-3, breaking the record for first-year teams held by the 1993-94 Panthers. They reached 84 points in 60 games; the Panthers had 83 in 84.

They also earn their 23rd home win, breaking the record for first-year teams held by the 1979-80 Hartford Whalers.

"To be honest with you," Gallant says, "we don't talk about expansion anymore."

 

March 10, 2018: The Golden Knights earn their 20th road win by defeating the Buffalo Sabres 2-1 in a shootout, breaking the record for first-year teams held by the 1993-94 Mighty Ducks. What about the Vegas flu being the reason they were so successful?

"I guess we're contagious," Fleury says, smiling. "We bring the flu on the road with us."

 

March 26, 2018: The Golden Knights clinch a playoff berth with a 4-1 win against the Avalanche.

Vegas is the 12th team to make the playoffs in its inaugural season, but the previous 11 don't compare. Two did it in 1917-17, the NHL's first season. Three did it in the 1920s. Four did it in 1967-68, when four were guaranteed to make it. Two did it in 1979-80 after coming from the World Hockey Association.

"We're all trying to enjoy the journey, but it has changed," McPhee says. "We now have higher expectations, and you have to have higher expectations based on the way the team has played. It forces you to think in a different way."

Video: NHL Tonight on the Golden Knights making the playoffs

 

March 31, 2018: The Golden Knights clinch first place in the Pacific Division with a 3-2 win against the San Jose Sharks.

"Obviously nobody had those expectations at the beginning of the season," Gallant says. "But as we know, our team grew on everybody. We've worked hard all season long, but we all know what the real accomplishment is supposed to be. It's all about the playoffs."

 

April 7, 2018: The Golden Knights finish the regular season with a 7-1 loss at Calgary, but with nothing at stake, Gallant gives players a chance to heal minor injuries and works others back into the lineup.

The Golden Knights end with 26 more points, 18 more wins, seven more home wins and two more road wins than any other NHL team ever had in its inaugural season.

"It's something to be happy about," forward Jonathan Marchessault says, "but not something to be satisfied with."

 

April 17, 2018: Vegas sweeps the Los Angeles Kings in the first round of the playoffs with a 1-0 win in Game 4, allowing a total of three goals in the series. They become the second NHL team to sweep its first playoff series, joining the 1970 Pittsburgh Penguins.

"Everybody contributes to our success," Fleury says. "We roll four lines, six 'D' are playing, and I think that's what makes our strength, is everybody contributing and adding to our success every night."

 

May 6, 2018: The Golden Knights advance to the Western Conference Final with a 3-0 win against the San Jose Sharks in Game 6 of the second round, and become the third team to win multiple NHL playoff series in its inaugural season, joining the Toronto Arenas (1918) and St. Louis Blues (1968).

"It's a bit crazy thinking about it, for sure," defenseman Brayden McNabb says. "But we're here to win. We're not going to get caught up in 'You shouldn't be here' or blah, blah, blah, whatever. We're here to win."

 

May 20, 2018: The Golden Knights become the third team in NHL history to advance to the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season, joining the Toronto Arenas (1918) and St. Louis Blues (1968), with a 2-1 win against the Winnipeg Jets in Game 5 of the Western Conference Final.

"I just know that this felt really good tonight," McPhee says. "We are in the Stanley Cup Final. It's pretty nice. I've had a chance to be there before, and I'd really like to win it this time."

Video: VGK@WPG, Gm5: Vegas wins WCF, advances to Cup Final

 

May 28, 2018: In Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Capitals at T-Mobile Arena, the Golden Knights trailed 4-3 heading into the third, but responded with three straight goals, including game-winning goal by Tomas Nosek at 9:44 for a 6-4 win.

 

June 7. 2018: Vegas takes a 3-2 lead into the third period in Game 5 of the Cup Final, but Washington scores twice to win the Stanley Cup. It's the first time all season the Golden Knights have lost four straight games.

Video: WSH@VGK, Gm5: Golden Knights skate off to applause

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