Officially, the party started two minutes after 3 o’clock Sunday afternoon in Las Vegas.
That is when Chandler Stephenson tapped Shea Theodore’s rebound into a half-empty net to give the Vegas Golden Knights a 3-2 win over the Dallas Stars in Game 2 of the Western Conference Final and a 2-0 series lead.
Unofficially, the planning for the bash took place in 2015 and 2016, in boardrooms and phone calls and text messages and emails.
That is when National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman and then-National Hockey League Players Association Executive Director Don Fehr negotiated the expansion draft rules for the franchise that the league’s Board of Governors signed off on.
Each team, it was agreed upon, would lose one player. However, each team would have to make one defenseman, two forwards, and one goaltender -- all contracted for the 2017-18 season– available to be selected by the Knights in the expansion draft.
The idea, as Bettman told the Toronto Star in its Nov. 14, 2016, edition was for the Knights to be “certainly more competitive than any other expansion team. They’re going to have a deeper draft. Is it likely they’ll win the Stanley Cup in their first year? Perhaps not. But they should be playing meaningful games well into the season. That was the plan.”
Left unsaid to The Star was that Bill Foley, majority owner of the Knights, paid $500 million to join the league, which needed the team to succeed in what was an untapped market.
Nearly seven years from the date of the publication of the story in The Star, it can be said that both the concept of hockey in one of America’s flashiest cities and the groundwork laid by the league for the team has been nothing short of unqualified successes.
In its sixth season of existence, the Golden Knights have qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs five times.
They reached the Stanley Cup Final in its inaugural season, losing to Washington in five games.
Two years later, in the COVID-19 shortened 2019-20 season, the Knights lost in five games to Dallas in the Edmonton bubble conference final.
The next season ended with a six-game series loss to Montreal in the semifinals. As of this writing, Vegas is two wins away from qualifying for the Cup Final, where it will meet either the Florida Panthers or Carolina Hurricanes.
Should the Golden Knights reach the Cup Final, it will have been wholly earned.
After not qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season, the Golden Knights fired coach Pete DeBoer and replaced him with Bruce Cassidy, who had been fired by Boston.
All Vegas did in its first year under Cassidy was finish with a Western Conference-best 111 points (51-22-9) before dispatching Winnipeg in five games in the first round and eliminating high-octane Edmonton in six-game second-round series.
Against Dallas–coached by DeBoer, in a delicious twist -- the Golden Knights won Game 1, 4-3, on Brett Howden’s goal 1:35 into overtime. Sunday, they needed Jonathan Marchessault’stying goal with 2:22 left in regulation to set the stage for Stephenson.
Until Marchessault’s goal, Game 2 had been something of a slog for the Golden Knights. The Stars outshot Vegas 17-10 in the first 40 periods, and finished the game with a 28-24 advantage. Dallas also out-attempted the Golden Knights 56-53.
“We found a little bit of what makes us a good team in the third,” Knights center Jack Eichel told reporters inside the T-Mobile Arena home locker room after the win Sunday. “And find a way to win.”
As the series shifts to American Airlines Center in Dallas for Games 3-4, among the reasons that the Golden Knights have been successful has been the contributions throughout the lineup.
Six players have recorded at least 10 points in this playoff season, led by Eichel and Mark Stone who are tied for the team lead with 15. They are followed by Stephenson (13), Marchessault (12), and William Karlsson and Ivan Barbashev(10 each).
Teams that have stars can win playoff games. Teams that have stars and quality depth can win Cups.
“We function that way all year,” Cassidy said. “We need everyone. We don’t rely on two or three players, or the goaltender [standing] on his head. We need a timely save -- we certainly got that in overtime–[and] timely goals. Marchessault gets a big one for us; gives us a chance.
“There’s certainly guys that we need to be drivers, I’ll say. But they don’t have to be the driver 82 times and then again how many times in the playoffs. Different guys can get us going and we saw that tonight. We saw it [in Game 1]. Teddy Bluegerscores a big goal–thought it would be the go-ahead goal–so there’s different people that contribute for us every night and that’s why we’re having success.”