As Reilly Smith and William Karlsson sprinted down the ice, a euphoric roar grew.
It was as if the hands of time were slowing down as the final play Saturday unfolded. Surely, as hockey scripture tells us, teams who are outshot 49-22 should not be winning games. Franchises that are forced to play their third-string goalies should not be making plays to save games from the jaws of defeat.
But alas, Smith glided down the ice with the puck in his possession. He let the moment come to him, waiting for the opportune time to slide the puck to Karlsson and let him finish off what seemed impossible when the puck dropped at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
The Vegas Golden Knights just defeated the powerful St. Louis Blues, 3-2, in overtime, in a game Vegas had no sense of winning.
But they did — just like they did opening night in Dallas, and then followed the following night with a win in Arizona. And just like they have done these last three games, with the face of the franchise going through concussion protocol, Vegas has found new ways to snatch victory from the bowels of uncertainty.
The Golden Knights are 6-1-0. Read that as many times as you can before it is branded in your cerebral cortex. They are third in the Western Conference and trail the Los Angeles Kings and these same Blues by one point in the standings.
For a team in its inaugural season, Vegas has the best start of any team in the 100-year history of the National Hockey League. The Golden Knights are winning games with no surefire superstar. There’s no Auston Matthews or Connor McDavid walking through the tunnel of T-Mobile Arena donning the dark gray jerseys that are slowly becoming the symbol of this #VegasStrong movement.
This team has overcome every challenge put in front of it. It’s time to take them seriously. They’re also not getting caught up in the history they’re making.
“No I don’t think we do honestly,” said forward Alex Tuch. “I think we use that as a little bit of fire, but no we don’t care about history right now or anything like that. We just worry about the next game, next practice, next shift you’re on. It’s a good mentality moving forward and it will help us win a lot of games.”
Before we put the cart in front of the horse, there are still 75 games to go before the Golden Knights can lay claim to any potential playoff desires they have. Believe this, though: There is a strong sense in the Vegas locker room that this group of nomads can make the playoffs. Regardless of what the roster may look like come the trade deadline, there is a firm belief within the Golden Knights culture that they’ll play hockey in late April.
“I think it’s a better team than people expected,” said head coach Gerard Gallant after Tuesday’s win against Buffalo. “I shouldn’t say they didn’t expect it because after the expansion draft, when I saw the list of our team, I was pretty impressed. There are some top-six forwards you don’t expect to get in the expansion draft, but the rules are different and we got some really talented hockey players. And you look at our so-called bottom-six guys, they’re competitive guys that work hard, come to the rink every night. There’s a lot of good hockey players there.”
Gallant doesn’t believe in numbering the lines. He sees the “fourth line” of Tomas Nosek, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and William Carrier providing just as much importance as the top line of David Perron, Cody Eakin and James Neal. It’s a team-first mentality that Gallant has brought to Vegas from his time in Florida, and it’s paid off.
No matter the challenge, the Golden Knights have found ways to overcome them. Win on opening night? Done. Win the following night, on the road? Done. Win the home opener with emotions flowing through an arena the likes of which haven’t been seen since Hurricane Katrina? Done. Win three games in a row after Marc-Andre Fleury goes down with a concussion, then turn to an unproven backup goalie who plays well until he gets hurt and be forced to play the third-string goalie against a high-powered offense and still win?
Done, done and done.
Malcolm Subban played the game of his life Saturday. He’s probably going to miss weeks with whatever lower-body injury he sustained. Oscar Dansk, who never played a lick of NHL hockey until Saturday night, gave up a goal on the first shot he saw.
Vegas still won.
“I don’t know what to say,” Karlsson said after Saturday’s game. “We’ve come together as a group rather quickly, and we seem to have a lot of fun out there. I think we have a good group of guys off the ice too but it is still early in the season so there’s still a lot of games left.”
No one knows what else to say, other than the Golden Knights are doing all the right things through seven games. Everyone should enjoy this wave they’re riding until it crashes. That could very well come Tuesday when the Blackhawks come to T-Mobile Arena.
Then again, the same thing was said about Saturday night, and here we are.