In case you haven’t heard, the Vegas Golden Knights are headed to the Stanley Cup Final. It is, assuredly, just like we all predicted.
Exactly two weeks after they ended the Sharks’ season in the second round, the expansion club was at it again on Sunday. Ryan Reaves tipped Luca Sbisa’s point shot for the eventual game-winning goal, adding two more unlikely heroes to a seemingly endless, and increasingly absurd, line of them as the Golden Knights eliminated the Winnipeg Jets.
San Jose is no longer the latest footnote in Vegas’ storybook season, but any remaining hesitation from Sharks fans to come to terms with the story of the season is understandable. After all, no team won more playoff games against the Golden Knights through three rounds, and the six-game, second-round series seemed like the start of a legitimate rivalry.
Just as straightforward is the fact that San Jose had a polar-opposite expansion experience. The Sharks got to pick mostly from the dregs of the then-Minnesota North Stars, and then from a much smaller pool of players in a league that had 10 fewer teams at the time. Even considering that many of the Golden Knights’ best players were acquired in trades around the Expansion Draft and/or selected under the condition Vegas didn’t select someone else, the club was in a better position than any new team in league history.
Frankly, it should sting a bit seeing an expansion team have unprecedented success a quarter-century after the Cow Palace hosted one of the worst teams in NHL history, as well as just two years after San Jose made its first-ever appearance in the Final following years of heartbreak. But any resentment can wait until next year, as Vegas doesn’t deserve your ire in its inaugural season.
The Golden Knights’ inaugural season is kind of story transcends hockey, a hyper-regional sport followed by fans who (mostly) don’t continue to watch the playoffs once their team is eliminated. Regardless of who advances out of the East, the possibility a team that existed pretty much in name exactly a year ago having a chance to engrave its name on the bleepin’ Stanley Cup is going to give the league, and the sport, some overdue national attention.
Unless you’re in the #PleaseLikeMySport crowd, this is undoubtedly a good thing. The Stanley Cup Final is going to attract plenty of viewers asking “Is this really happening?” without having watched much, if any, hockey previously. If a few of them decide to stick around? Even better.
Plus, it’s not like a parade down the Strip makes one in San Jose any less likely in the future. Far from it, in fact. The Golden Knights would be the first team from outside of Chicago, Los Angeles, and Pittsburgh to win a Stanley Cup since 2011, and the first first-time champion since the Kings in 2012.
Hockey fans love to trumpet the NHL’s parity, and if the league is truly one Where Any Team Can Win And Anything Can Happen, new teams are certainly welcome on the Stanley Cup. Even the league’s newest.
More than any year, it’s best to take the long view on this postseason, and to ultimately embrace the absurdity of it all. Sharks fans can be as frustrated as they want while the Golden Knights play for a championship and San Jose is in offseason mode.
Just save that until this ridiculous ride comes to an end.