THE Vegas Golden Knights have moved within sight of making National Hockey League history, completing a 4-1 series victory over the Winnipeg Jets to become the first expansion team in 50 years to reach the Stanley Cup Finals in their debut season.
A deflected goal in the second period from Ryan Reaves clinched a 2-1 victory for the Knights, who were written off as 500/1 no-hopers before the start of season but who could now become the first expansion team ever to win the Stanley Cup at the first attempt.
Barely a year ago the team’s roster had not been assembled, and the franchise compiled their squad from players who had mostly been overlooked or discarded by other franchises.
The hodgepodge nature of the team has led to players from the franchise cheerfully referring to themselves as the “Golden Misfits”, but they have hardly put a foot wrong through their debut campaign, which began just a week after a mass hooting on the Las Vegas Strip that left 58 people dead.
The Knights paid tribute to the victims by retiring the No. 58 jersey and Las Vegas has embraced its first major professional sports franchise with open arms.
Against the Jets on Sunday, the Knights again produced another fiercely determined performance, hustling Winnipeg relentlessly to help force the opening goal.
Jets defenceman Josh Morrissey carelessly turned over possession under pressure from Joel Armia, with his pass deflecting into the path of Knights forward Alex Tuch who rammed home the opener for 1-0.
Morrissey made amends for his error with 2min 47sec left in the first, his long-range effort flying into the roof of the net to make it 1-1.
Luca Sbisa then helped the Knights take a 2-1 lead in the second period, with his shot from distance deflecting off Reaves to silence the home crowd at Winnipeg’s Bell MTS Place arena.
The Knights then produced a superb defensive performance in the face of relentless Winnipeg pressure in the third to close out a famous victory.
While the Knights celebrated, the defeat ensured Canada’s long wait for a Stanley Cup crown will continue.
The spiritual homeland of ice hockey has now not won the Stanley Cup for 25 years, with the Montreal Canadiens the last team to win the coveted NHL crown in 1993.
The newly minted Western Conference champions from Nevada will face either the Tampa Bay Lightning or Washington Capitals in the finals of the NHL showpiece.
The Lightning could claim the Eastern Conference crown with victory over the Capitals on Monday in game six of a series they lead 3-2.
Neutrals will almost certainly be rooting for the Knights however.