The Golden Knights had modest goals in their first season.
Put a credible team on the ice while attracting fans unused to a major pro league in Vegas, where gambling and big-name entertainers have ruled the desert city.
Nobody said anything the playoffs, let alone making noise in the postseason.
“It’s unreal,” coach Gerard Gallant said after the Knights beat the Los Angeles Kings 1-0 on Tuesday and became the first expansion team in NHL history to sweep their first playoff series. “It all started when we went 8-2 in our first 10 games.”
Now, they’re playing with house money.
“We’re sky-high right now,” said Brayden McNabb, whose second-period goal proved the series-winner against his former team.
Next up is either Anaheim or San Jose. The Sharks are going for a sweep of their own with a 3-0 series lead.
“It doesn’t matter who we play,” Gallant said. “We’ll have some time to get ready for them.”
Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury will get some much-needed rest after backstopping two shutouts in the series. He stopped 31 shots as the Knights finished off their fourth one-goal victory against the Kings.
“We’re still a few wins away from this being a great story,” Fleury said.
The Knights are the second team to win their first four playoff games, joining the 1970 Pittsburgh Penguins.
“We came in with a chip on our shoulder,” forward Jonathan Marchessault said. “When we play the right way, I think we can go far, but we cannot look too far right now. We’ve got to look at the next game and be able to cash in the rest that we’re going to have here.”
Fleury survived a tense third period at Staples Center.
With their fans shouting encouragement, the desperate Kings put the pressure on. Having pulled goalie Jonathan Quick for an extra attacker late, Dustin Brown’s shot in the high slot was stopped by Fleury’s glove.
Brown also hit the left post with 10 minutes to go in the third, typical of the close calls that Fleury turned away with seeming ease. His goals-against average is a career-low 0.66 and he stopped 127 of 130 shots in the series.
Quick made 20 saves on Tuesday and gave up seven goals to Vegas, one of the league’s higher scoring teams.
“Both goaltenders were excellent,” Gallant said. “We got a little bit more puck luck and we cashed in at the right time.”
Vegas is just the third expansion team since 1968-69 to clinch a playoff berth.
Suddenly, the Knights’ goals are unlimited.
“We didn’t to expect to do this at the beginning of the year,” left wing David Perron said, “but it feels great and we’re going to enjoy it.”
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