Golden Knights clinch playoff berth in inaugural season

The Vegas Golden Knights began as a team of castoffs, but they’re the envy of the NHL after defying the odds to reach the playoffs in their first season. No NHL team since 1980 had clinched a playoff berth in their inaugural season, and expansion teams since then have often entered the league at the bottom of the standings, but the Golden Knights have been competitive from the start, to the surprise of just about everyone.'

 

Vegas officially clinched a spot on Monday with a 4-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche that featured William Karlsson’s 40th goal of the season. Career years from players like Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault are a big part of the reason the Golden Knights accomplished something no expansion team has ever done: secure a playoff berth in their first season while in direct competition with established franchises. The Edmonton Oilers and the Hartford Whalers were not expansion teams when they advanced to the postseason in 1980, having joined the NHL in the WHA merger, and the other four expansion teams to earn a first-season playoff berth did so in 1968 when the six expansion teams were given their own division and four were guaranteed a spot in the playoffs.

 

Monday’s win was the 200th career victory for Vegas coach Gerard Gallant, who was somewhat of a castoff himself after being unceremoniously fired by the Florida Panthers last season. Gallant has consistently gotten the most from a roster that initially appeared built to be trade fodder, with too many defensemen and plenty of players on expiring contracts - players like David Perron and Colin Miller, who proved they can handle important roles and should see big pay raises in the offseason. As a result, the Golden Knights have one of the best home records and are almost as good on the road, and they have more wins in regulation or overtime than any other team in the Western Conference.

 

Fans have responded to Vegas’ success with one of the best home attendance percentages in the league, alleviating concerns that hockey couldn’t flourish in the desert (fellow desert-dwellers the Arizona Coyotes are once again one of the worst teams in terms of average attendance). The Golden Knights began the season with the worst odds to win the Stanley Cup at 500-1, but those odds now sit at 7-1 with Vegas heading to the playoffs. It may seem unfathomable for an expansion team to compete for a championship, but if the Golden Knights can continue to defy expectations in the postseason, that’s exactly what they will be doing.