The Vegas Golden Knights lost Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals last night at T-Mobile Arena, as the Washington Capitals clinched the National Hockey League championship with a 4-3 victory over the home team. It was not the fairy tale finish the fans in Sin City were hoping for, but all things considered, it was an amazing season for the NHL's expansion darlings from Las Vegas. The Golden Knights won the Pacific Division and then advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals in their first season ever, an accomplishment that every subsequent expansion team in major professional sports in North America will try to match now.
It's time to look back and reflect now upon the great season that was, for there were many triumphant moments that signified the fortitude, integrity, and resiliency of this team and the city it represents. Very few people had high expectations for the Golden Knights, considering the most recent expansion examples in the NHL. However, the team constantly surpassed benchmark after benchmark to come so close to winning it all in its first season.
So, relive the 2017-2018 season for the Golden Knights with our list of the ten best moments of the season, ranked in order of awesomeness.
10. Winning the first game in franchise history: Every expansion team wants to win its first time out, and Vegas had to open the season on the road in Dallas. The Stars had a disappointing 2016-2017 season, but this was still a tough test for the Golden Knights in their first-ever game in franchise history. The Stars scored first, but in a sign of the resilient season to come, Vegas scored twice in the third period to claim the 2-1 victory.
9. Winning the first home game in franchise history: After starting the season with two road victories, the Golden Knights came home and played for the first time in front of the hometown fans that already loved them. They didn't disappoint. The team scored four goals in the first 11 minutes against the Arizona Coyotes on their way to a 5-2 win at T-Mobile Arena that set the tone for the entire home schedule.
8. Never losing more than three games in a row in the regular season: Long losing streaks kill any team's playoff hopes, and the Golden Knights—despite their expansion-team status—were able to avoid those kinds of morale-killing slides. This was greatly due to the veteran makeup of some of the team's leaders and the careful coaching guidance of Gerard Gallant. A road win on November 4 in Ottawa stopped an L3 in its tracks early in the season. Then, an overtime win at home on December 3 against Arizona halted another three-game slide. Finally, a road win in New Jersey on March 4 put an end to the team's final three-game losing streak of the regular season and helped propel the Golden Knights forward.
7. Knocking off the San Jose Sharks in the second round of the playoffs: We don't mean to minimize the achievement by placing it so low. It's just that the other two series wins were more ... impressive. The Golden Knights knocked off the Sharks in six games, after a controversial call in overtime cost them a win in Game 2. Then, after suffering the first postseason shutout loss in franchise history against the Sharks in Game 4, Vegas took two straight games to clinch the series and advance. For the second series in a row, they closed out the opponent in the first opportunity—and on the road.
6. The eight-game winning streak: From December 14 to January 2, the Golden Knights won eight straight games, and in the process, they took over first place in the Pacific Division for good. Overall, the streak was part of a stretch where Vegas won 12 of 13 games to put itself atop the league in terms of attention, respect, and success. Look at the teams the Golden Knights beat during this win streak—Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Washington, Los Angeles, Nashville—and perhaps we should have known they'd do just fine in the playoffs.
5. Starting four different goaltenders by Halloween: ... and still having an 8-3 record at that point. Think about that for a moment. Marc-Andre Fleury started the first four games before getting hurt, and then Malcolm Subban started three straight before also suffering an injury. Next up was Oscar Dansk, who started three consecutive games himself—and posted the first shutout in team history—before getting hurt, too. Think about terrible luck that is for an expansion team to lose its top three goalies to injury before the first month of the season is over. On October 31, Maxime Lagace started for Vegas and the next ten games for the Golden Knights as well. Neither Dansk nor Legace had ever played in the NHL before, and Subban himself had made just two NHL appearances before this season. Fleury returned for good on December 12, but not before Vegas had to use a fifth goalie—19-year-old Dylan Ferguson, also making his NHL debut in support of Lagace—on November 14.
4. Beating the Los Angeles Kings in the first round of the playoffs: These were the Stanley Cup champions from 2012 and 2014, and the Kings knew what it took to win in the postseason. They also had a goaltender (Jonathan Quick) who had won the Conn Smythe. How would the expansion Vegas squad handle this challenge in its first-ever playoff series? Quick was outstanding, holding the Golden Knights to just seven goals in four games. However, Fleury was even better, as the Kings themselves scored three times in four games. He posted two shutouts in the series, as Vegas won four straight one-goal games over a team many picked to make a run to the Cup Finals again.
3. Winning the Pacific Division title: Winning the division in the first year of play was stunning, especially when you consider the strength of the division. Four of the prior seven Western Conference champions had come from the Pacific Division. But the Golden Knights won 51 games to win the division by eight points over the Anaheim Ducks, with the Sharks trailing Vegas by nine points—and the Kings finishing 11 points behind the Golden Knights. Overall, in division games, Vegas posted a 20-6-3 record against the other seven teams in the Pacific Division. That's dominance, period. Oh, and we all remember the goal William Karlsson scored in the division-clinching win against San Jose in the home finale of the regular season.
2. Winning the Western Conference Finals: The Winnipeg Jets were the most formidable opponent the Golden Knights faced in the postseason (on paper, at least). They had the second-best scoring offense in the NHL, and they had just knocked off the Presidents' Trophy winners from Nashville in the second round. Furthermore, the Jets had home ice for the series. That didn't matter. After dropping Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals in Winnipeg, the Golden Knights proceeded to rip off four straight victories to win the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl in their first season. That's something three teams in the conference have yet to achieve, by the way: Arizona, Minnesota, and Winnipeg.
1. Winning the first Stanley Cup Finals game in franchise history: Even though the Cup Finals didn't go the way the Golden Knights wanted, Game 1 of the series was an amazing victory for Vegas in front of the hometown fans. More than any other moment, this game signified what hockey had become in Las Vegas. Sure, it's easier to root for a winning team, but it goes beyond that in Sin City. The team brought the city together over the last nine months after unspeakable tragedy, and we know the NHL will be a fixture in Vegas for years to come. Next season cannot start soon enough for Golden Knights fans everywhere.