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Golden Knights stun hockey world again with latest playoff series win

Ability to rally against Avalanche sends Vegas to Stanley Cup Semifinals

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

The Vegas Golden Knights have shocked the hockey world once again.

When they made their selections in the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft, who would've thought they'd make the third round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs three times in their first four seasons?

When they lost the first two games to the Colorado Avalanche in the Stanley Cup Second Round this season, who would've thought they'd win the best-of-7 series in six?

Well, they did it.

They eliminated the Avalanche with a 6-3 win in Game 6 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Thursday and will play the Montreal Canadiens in the Stanley Cup Semifinals starting at home Monday.

"This is hard," Vegas coach Peter DeBoer said. "It's hard to make the playoffs in this league. It's hard to win a series. So, what these men here have accomplished is really unreal."

Vegas is the third team to make the NHL final four three times in its first four seasons, but the first two teams to do it don't compare.

The New York Rangers did it in each of their first four seasons, from 1926-30, but the NHL had 10 teams and the playoffs were nothing like they are now.

The St. Louis Blues did it in each of their first three, from 1967-70, but that was when the NHL expanded from six to 12 teams and the format guaranteed an expansion team would make the Stanley Cup Final.

The Golden Knights entered with more favorable rules than previous expansion teams. But they also entered at a time when the NHL had 30 established teams, was defined by parity and the playoffs were four best-of-7 rounds.

Vegas is the first NHL team to win seven rounds in its first four seasons.

"It's pretty impressive," said defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, who signed with the Golden Knights as an unrestricted free agent Oct. 12, 2020. " … It starts with ownership, and it trickles its way down. Everybody here wants to win. We all share that same passion. It started here since Day One, and it continues to be the same thing."

Video: Golden Knights beat Avs to advance to Semifinals

This might have been the most impressive series win in Golden Knights history.

Vegas tied Colorado for the most points in the regular season (82), with the Avalanche winning the Presidents' Trophy and the No. 1 seed in the Honda West Division thanks to the regulation-wins tiebreaker (35-30).

But the Avalanche blew out the Golden Knights 7-1 in Game 1 and defeated them 3-2 in overtime in Game 2 at Colorado. At that point, they had won 11 straight going back to the regular season.

They had Philipp Grubauer, voted a finalist for the Vezina Trophy as the NHL's best goalie; Cale Makar, voted a finalist for the Norris Trophy as the NHL's best defenseman; and Nathan MacKinnon, voted a finalist for the Hart Trophy as the NHL's most valuable player and the center of one of the NHL's top lines.

"I don't think there was a person in the hockey world when we were down 2-0 that would [have predicted] that we would finish this off in six at home tonight," DeBoer said. "That was real. There was a lot more talk about us being swept and embarrassed, and could we even win a game?

"I think we've got a group with a lot of pride, and they just blocked out the noise and went to work and battled and scraped and scratched and found a way."

The Golden Knights returned home to T-Mobile Arena, and for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began, it was filled to capacity (17,504). They won 3-2 in Game 3 and 5-1 in Game 4.

"That changed the series for us, getting back home in Game 3 to a sold-out rink," captain Mark Stone said. "I really think the tide changed when we got them involved."

Video: Ken Daneyko on the Golden Knights game six clincher

Vegas trailed 2-0 early in the third period of Game 5 but rallied for a 3-2 overtime win. Game 6 was 3-3 until Pietrangelo scored the go-ahead goal late in the second period.

Stone called the series "a heavyweight tilt."

"We have a lot of good leaders on this team, a lot of experience," said goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, the face of the Golden Knights from the beginning. "Even when we were down 2-0 in the series, I didn't see or feel any panic in our team, and I think it showed."

And so, now the NHL's youngest active team will face its oldest, the Canadiens.

It will not be easy, if only because Carey Price is more than capable of frustrating Vegas the way goalies Thatcher Demko of the Vancouver Canucks, Anton Khudobin of the Dallas Stars and Cam Talbot of the Minnesota Wild have in the playoffs to various degrees over the past two seasons.

But the Golden Knights will be the favorite, and it will be no shock to anyone in the hockey world if they reach the Stanley Cup Final for the second time in their four seasons, the first time since their inaugural season of 2017-18.

It wouldn't shock anyone if they won the Cup.

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