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Journey to the Cup: How the Golden Knights reached the Stanley Cup Final

Looking back at the Golden Knights’ historic playoff run thus far.

Vegas Golden Knights v Winnipeg Jets - Game Five Photo by David Lipnowski/Getty Images

A lot can happen in a year.

In fact, at this time last year, the Golden Knights roster consisted of Reid Duke and Vadim Shipachyov.

But come Monday night, Vegas’ storybook franchise will embark on the final leg of this postseason journey as the Knights take on the Capitals for the ultimate prize: the Stanley Cup.

(It’s ok, feel free to take a moment to pinch yourself; you are not alone.)

It is borderline incomprehensible what this team has accomplished in its infancy, but the Golden Knights are just one day away from dropping the puck in the Stanley Cup Final.

Despite the countless records Vegas has shattered over the course of its inaugural campaign, it hasn’t exactly been an easy road. The Knights have faced adversity since before the season even began, and series wins against Los Angeles, San Jose and Winnipeg were hard-fought battles and hard-earned victories.

But how did the Knights overcome all odds and shock the sports world with a berth in the actual Stanley Cup Final? Let’s take a look back at Vegas’ journey to the Cup.

(ICYMI, take a look back at the Knights’ regular season: first half, second half)

2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Round One: Vegas vs. Los Angeles

The Golden Knights met up with their Pacific Division rivals, the Los Angeles Kings, in Vegas’ first postseason series in franchise history. Marc-Andre Fleury was incredible, recording two shutouts in four games and surrendering just three total goals in the entire series. Kings netminder Jonathan Quick was superb as well, but Fleury and the Knights completed a first-round sweep in impressive fashion.

Apr. 11

GAME #1: Los Angeles @ Vegas (1-0 VGK)

Vegas scores the first postseason goal in franchise history as Shea Theodore puts one past Quick at 3:23 of the first period.

Fleury records a 30-save shutout, the 11th postseason shutout of his career, as the Knights take a 1-0 series lead with a 1-0 victory in Game 1. Full recap. What we learned.

Stars of the Game
#1: Marc-Andre Fleury
#2: James Neal
#3: Jonathan Quick

Apr. 12

Department of Player Safety suspends Kings defenseman Drew Doughty for an illegal check to the head of William Carrier in Game 1.

Apr. 13

GAME #2: Los Angeles @ Vegas (2-1 VGK, 2OT)

For the second straight game, Vegas jumps out to a 1-0 lead in the first period, this time on a power-play goal by Alex Tuch, who scores the first postseason goal of his career. Los Angeles ties it late in the second on a power-play goal by Paul LaDue, who scores his first postseason goal. However, the game requires extra time due to the stellar play of Quick and Fleury.

It takes 95-plus minutes, but the magic continues.

In an epic battle, Erik Haula scores the game-winner at 15:23 of double overtime to give Vegas a 2-0 series lead.

Quick is outstanding yet again, making 54 saves on 56 shots in the Kings’ loss, though Fleury holds his own with 29 saves on 30 shots. Full recap. What we learned.

Stars of the Game
#1: Erik Haula
#2: Nate Schmidt
#3: Jonathan Quick

Apr. 15

GAME #3: Vegas @ Los Angeles (3-2 VGK)

David Perron returns to the lineup for the first time in the series as Tomas Tatar serves as a healthy scratch. Alex Iafallo gives Los Angeles its first lead of the series with a first-period tally.

But the Knights ride three third-period goals to victory as they take a commanding 3-0 series lead. Cody Eakin, James Neal and William Karlsson net their first of the postseason in the span of eight minutes and 34 seconds, with Karlsson grabbing the eventual game-winner at 14:44 of the third, a stunning turn of events just 21 seconds after Neal’s go-ahead goal.

Anze Kopitar scores with just over two minutes remaining in the game off a defensive-zone turnover by Reilly Smith, but Fleury holds down the fort as the Knights pull within one win of advancing. Full recap. What we learned.

Stars of the Game
#1: Marc-Andre Fleury
#2: James Neal
#3: Alex Iafallo

Apr. 17: The sweep

GAME #4: Vegas @ Los Angeles (1-0 VGK)

In a strong defensive effort and Fleury’s second shutout of the series, Vegas wins 1-0 on Brayden McNabb’s first of the playoffs as the Golden Knights sweep Los Angeles, four games to none. Fittingly, it is McNabb that scores the series-clinching goal against his former team as Vegas becomes the first franchise to sweep a first-round series in its inaugural season.

Fleury stops 31 of 31 shots in the contest, finishing the series with 127 stops on 130 shots for an absurd .977 save percentage and 0.65 goals-against average. His save on Dustin Brown very late in the third is quite the exclamation point on his series performance.

The Knights advance to the second round and remain undefeated in postseason play. Full recap. What we learned.

Stars of the Game
#1: Marc-Andre Fleury
#2: Jonathan Quick
#3: Brayden McNabb


Round One Statistical Overview

Overall Record: 4-0
Goals For: 7
Goals Against: 3
Power Play: 8.3 percent
Penalty Kill: 92.3 percent
Leading Scorer: Smith (0-3—3), Marchessault (0-2—2), Theodore/Tuch/Karlsson/Neal (1-1—2)
TOI/GP: Schmidt (27:56), Engelland (25:26), McNabb (24:23), Karlsson (23:28)
Corsi For Percentage (5v5): Theodore (61.96), Marchessault (60.0), Karlsson (59.33)
Points Per 60: Smith (2.12), Perron (1.98), Tuch (1.69), Neal (1.52), Marchessault (1.39)
Hits/GP: Carrier (6.3), Tatar (5.5), Eakin (4.5), Marchessault (4.0), Neal (4.0)
Blocks/GP: McNabb (3.3), Miller (2.0), Schmidt (2.0)
Goalie Stats: Fleury (4-0, 0.65 GAA, .977 SV%, 2 SHO)


Round Two: Vegas vs. San Jose

Vegas drew another Pacific Division opponent in the second round in the San Jose Sharks, who were coming off a first-round sweep of their own. Sharks goaltender Martin Jones was almost as dominant as Fleury in the first round, going 4-0 and recording a .970 save percentage and 1.00 goals-against average. The back-and-forth second-round series had both teams trading wins early on but eventually concluded with back-to-back wins for the Knights, who shut down a talented Sharks team in San Jose in Game 6 to advance to the Western Conference Final. The 3-0 series clincher made Vegas the first team in NHL history to win multiple playoff rounds in its inaugural season.

Apr. 26

GAME #1: San Jose @ Vegas (7-0 VGK)

Much like in Game 1 of Vegas’ first-round series against Los Angeles, it takes the Golden Knights less than five minutes to get on the board as Eakin nets his second of the postseason. Haula doubles the Knights’ lead just 26 seconds later, and Jonathan Marchessault grabs his first-ever playoff goal 65 seconds after that, giving Vegas a 3-0 lead just 6:02 into the game. Tuch finishes up a four-goal first period for Vegas with a dandy, showing what he might be capable of as a power forward in this league down the line.

As the frustration for San Jose mounts, Evander Kane cross-checks Pierre-Edouard Bellemare in the face, which results in a major penalty and game misconduct. Colin Miller and Neal add to Vegas’ lead on the ensuing major. Theodore is the seventh different Knight to score in a 7-0 blowout. Fleury records his third shutout in five games as he makes 33 stops. Full recap. What we learned.

Stars of the Game
#1: Marc-Andre Fleury
#2: Alex Tuch
#3: Reilly Smith

Apr. 27

Department of Player Safety suspends Kane for one game for his cross-check on Bellemare in Game 1.

Apr. 28: The first loss

GAME #2: San Jose @ Vegas (4-3 SJS, 2OT)

San Jose bounces back with a solid performance, dominating the Knights in possession in the first period. However, Karlsson gives Vegas a 1-0 lead late in the first and a 2-0 lead just 26 seconds into the second frame. Vegas proceeds to blow the 2-0 lead as Brent Burns and Logan Couture combine for three second-period goals (1, 2, 3) to give San Jose a 3-2 lead. Despite getting outplayed for most of regulation, the Knights fight back and tie it up on a goal by Nate Schmidt, preserving Vegas’ chances of taking a 2-0 series lead. But this one requires more than 20 minutes of sudden-death overtime, thanks in part to a controversial goaltender interference call that disallows Marchessault’s game-winner at 16:58 of the first overtime.

Discipline deals the fatal blow as back-to-back penalties early in the second overtime result in Couture’s second of the night, which gives San Jose the 4-3 win and evens up the series at 1-1.

Full recap. What we learned.

Stars of the Game
#1: Logan Couture
#2: William Karlsson
#3: Brent Burns

Apr. 30

GAME #3: Vegas @ San Jose (4-3 VGK, OT)

For the first time in the series, San Jose gets on the board first on a power-play goal by Timo Meier nearly seven minutes into the second frame. Vegas responds less than three minutes later with a power-play goal of their own off the stick of Miller, and the Knights follow that up with two goals in the span of 1:17 later in the period to take a 3-1 lead into the second intermission. However, for the second straight game, Vegas proceeds to blow its two-goal lead.

First, Kane scores a controversial goal nearly eight minutes into the third, just four seconds after the conclusion of a minor penalty to Jon Merrill. Gerard Gallant challenges the play for goalie interference with Couture making contact with Fleury at the edge of the crease, but the challenge is unsuccessful.

Then, Tomas Hertl ties the game with under two minutes left in regulation on a dominant shift by the Sharks.

For the second game in a row, the Sharks and Knights head to overtime. Unlike Game 2, however, Vegas’ goal in the first overtime counts. Wild Bill ends the game with a wicked wrister to give Vegas a 2-1 series lead.

Full recap. What we learned.

Stars of the Game
#1: Marc-Andre Fleury
#2: William Karlsson
#3: Tomas Hertl

May 2

GAME #4: Vegas @ San Jose (4-0 SJS)

In Vegas’ worst effort of the postseason, San Jose secures a crushing 2-0 lead with a goal in the waning seconds of the opening frame. Joonas Donskoi beats Fleury with under six seconds left in the first period, and it proves to be a turning point in the tilt as Vegas never recovers. The Sharks add two more (one in the second, one in the third) to take a 4-0 win on home ice, sending the series back to Vegas tied at 2-2. However, it will be San Jose’s final win of the season. Full recap. What we learned.

Stars of the Game
#1: Martin Jones
#2: Tomas Hertl
#3: Marcus Sorensen

May 4

GAME #5: San Jose @ Vegas (5-3 VGK)

Much like Donskoi’s goal in Game 4, Neal delivers a dagger to the Sharks by scoring with just three seconds left in the first period. The Knights get three additional unanswered goals from Tuch (2) and Haula, giving Vegas a 4-0 lead 8:36 into the third period.

However, San Jose does not go quietly. Kevin Labanc gets things started on the power play a minute after Tuch scores his second of the night, and Hertl strikes a little over two minutes later, cutting Vegas’ lead to two.

Mikkel Boedker tucks home his first of the postseason four minutes later, bringing the Sharks within one. In what feels like an instant, the Knights are on their heels, desperately fighting to preserve what had been a four-goal lead. However, Marchessault capitalizes on a risky shot from inside his blue line, grabbing the empty-netter at 18:39 to seal the victory.

Vegas takes the 5-3 Game 5 win and heads to San Jose as the Sharks look to stave off elimination. Full recap. What we learned.

Stars of the Game
#1: Alex Tuch
#2: David Perron
#3: Erik Haula

May 6: Good Knight, San Jose

GAME #6: Vegas @ San Jose (3-0 VGK)

Karlsson and Smith take advantage of a turnover-laden shift in the second period and feed the puck down low to Marchessault, who beats Jones five-hole to give Vegas the first lead of the night 6:33 into the middle frame.

Schmidt gives the Knights a 2-0 lead, though it takes a little while for anyone to realize since play continues after his shot rings off the post. However, it makes contact with the camera inside the net before bouncing out, making it a good goal.

In the third, Vegas has perhaps its most telling period of the entire season. Though it’s officially do-or-die time for San Jose, Vegas is the hungrier team. The Knights’ defense is stifling, and the offense forces Jones to make several point-blank stops to keep the Sharks alive. San Jose comes very close, hitting the post several times (Fleury responds appropriately), but is unable to convert. Eakin caps off a dominant third period with an empty-net goal at 18:09 of the frame to seal the game and series for Vegas; Ryan Carpenter gets the primary assist on the play as the Knights eliminate his former team from the playoffs.

Fleury is sensational yet again, recording his fourth postseason shutout with 28 saves. Not many goalies can pull off a 28-save shutout in a series-clinching game on the road against a desperate team facing elimination, but Fleury does it with a smile on his face. Ryan Reaves records one shot, eight hits and one block in 10:11 of ice time in his Golden Knights postseason debut. Full recap. What we learned.

Stars of the Game
#1: Marc-Andre Fleury
#2: Jonathan Marchessault
#3: Nate Schmidt


Round Two Statistical Overview

Overall Record: 4-2
Goals For: 22
Goals Against: 14
Power Play: 21.4 percent
Penalty Kill: 81.5 percent
Leading Scorer: Marchessault (4-5—9), Karlsson (3-5—8), Smith (1-7—8), Perron (0-6—6)
TOI/GP: Schmidt (24:02), Theodore (22:30), Engelland (22:16), McNabb (22:05), Karlsson (21:48)
Corsi For % (5v5, >5 GP): Miller (56.36), Marchessault (54.86), Smith (54.6), Karlsson (54.44)
Points Per 60 (>5 GP): Marchessault (4.7), Smith (3.97), Karlsson (3.67), Perron (3.22)
Hits/GP (>5 GP): McNabb (5.7), Carrier (5.4), Eakin (3.7), Haula (3.2), Haula (3.2)
Blocks/GP (>5 GP): Engelland (3.2), McNabb (3.0), Bellemare (2.5), Schmidt (1.7)
Goalie Stats: Fleury (4-2, 2.14 GAA, .934 SV%, 2 SHO)


Round Three: Vegas vs. Winnipeg

For the first time in the postseason, Vegas did not have home-ice advantage, which seemed like it might be an issue early on as Winnipeg got off to a great start with a convincing 4-2 win in Game 1. However, the Knights bounced back and proceeded to win the next four games, eliminating Winnipeg in five games to advance to the first Stanley Cup Final appearance in franchise history. It was Vegas’ biggest test of the season, and though they lost just one game, the Jets pushed the Knights to their limits throughout the series. However, Vegas did what it has done all year: respond well to adversity and thrive in the moment.

May 12

GAME #1: Vegas @ Winnipeg (4-2 WPG)

The Jets get off to a roaring start with a blast by Dustin Byfuglien that beats Fleury just 65 seconds into the contest.

Winnipeg strikes again as Patrik Laine blows a one-timer past Fleury on the power play, giving the Jets a 2-0 lead less than seven minutes into the series.

But Winnipeg isn’t finished. The Jets grab a 3-0 lead just 46 seconds later as Joel Armia deflects one in.

The play is ruled no goal on the ice as a result of the contact Armia makes with Fleury, but a successful goaltender interference challenge by Jets coach Paul Maurice reverses the call and gives the Jets a commanding 3-0 lead 7:35 into the opening frame.

However, as has been the case all year, Vegas is not one to skimp on the dramatics. Merely 35 seconds after Armia’s tally, McNabb comes through with a huge goal to get the Knights on the board, cutting Winnipeg’s lead to two.

Reaves sends a message as he nails Blake Wheeler into the Knights’ bench, but Winnipeg takes the 3-1 lead into intermission.

Almost 10 minutes into the second, Mark Scheifele capitalizes on another power play and regains Winnipeg’s three-goal lead. It is his 12th goal of the postseason.

The Knights get a power-play goal of their own from Karlsson six minutes later, but Winnipeg holds on and takes Game 1 in front of the whiteout crowd. However, it will be Winnipeg’s final win of the season. Full recap. What we learned.

Stars of the Game
#1: Blake Wheeler
#2: Dustin Byfuglien
#3: Mark Scheifele

May 14

GAME #2: Vegas @ Winnipeg (3-1 VGK)

Tatar returns to the lineup for the first time since Game 4 against San Jose, and he makes his presence felt by scoring the first goal of the night on a strong shift by the third line. Marchessault doubles Vegas’ lead four minutes later with a beautiful five-hole move off a strong defensive play by Schmidt and Smith.

Despite some frightening chances for the Jets early in the first, the Knights are dominant at the end of the period and carry a surprising 2-0 lead to the locker room after 20 minutes. Perhaps overshadowing some excellent saves in a scoreless middle frame, Fleury gives up a soft one while short-handed in the third, cutting Vegas’ lead in half as Kyle Connor nets his third of the playoffs.

But Marchessault strikes again just 88 seconds later with his second five-hole goal of the night on a great all-around shift by the top line.

Though Winnipeg drives play for most of the game, the Knights even up the series with a 3-1 win. Full recap. What we learned.

Stars of the Game
#1: Jonathan Marchessault
#2: Marc-Andre Fleury
#3: Kyle Connor

May 16

GAME #3: Winnipeg @ Vegas (4-2 VGK)

The Knights get off to a thrilling start with a goal just 35 seconds into the game as Marchessault buries one on a great neutral-zone play by McNabb.

For the first time in the series, Vegas is dominant in the opening frame, though the goal horn does not sound for the remaining 19:25 of the period.

Scheifele knots it up early in the second with his 13th of the playoffs.

However, Neal responds just TWELVE seconds later, reclaiming Vegas’ one-goal lead in the blink of an eye.

But why lead by one goal when you can lead by two? Well, that’s what Neal is thinking when he makes this play, setting up Tuch less than three minutes later:

However, the Knights aren’t the only team that can change a game in the first 30 seconds of a period. Scheifele proves that with his second of the game and 14th of the playoffs just 18 seconds into the third frame. To their credit, the Jets proceed to throw everything (including multiple kitchen sinks) at the Knights. But this is Fleury’s world; we just live in it. Fleury transforms into some combination of man, beast and dolphin to save the day for the Knights, who are at Winnipeg’s mercy for the first 15 minutes of the third.

In the end, Fleury is somehow able to weather Winnipeg’s mighty storm until his teammates remember how to play hockey and defend the lead later in the period. Marchessault seals the deal with an empty-net goal with three seconds left in the game as the Knights take their first lead of the series. Oh, and Fleury also does this during a scrum because, well, he’s Fleury:

Basic recap. Full recap.

Stars of the Game
#1: Marc-Andre Fleury
#2: Jonathan Marchessault
#3: James Neal

May 18

GAME #4: Winnipeg @ Vegas (3-2 VGK)

Karlsson gives Vegas an early lead with a power-play goal 2:25 into the opening frame.

It takes more than 27 minutes for another goal to cross the goal line, partly because Fleury is making saves like this:

But Laine gets one past him, tying the game on the power play while Tomas Nosek sits and watches from the penalty box.

However, Nosek redeems himself just 43 seconds later as he gives Vegas a 2-1 lead.

But the Jets come back in the third and tie it up once again, evening up the contest at 5:34 of the frame. From there, it’s anyone’s game until Byfuglien fans on a shot at the blue line. Smith makes him pay for it, carrying the puck down the ice and beating Hellebuyck off the bar and in.

Smith gives the Knights a 3-2 lead that Vegas does not surrender. The Knights take a 3-1 lead in the series. Full recap. What we learned.

Stars of the Game
#1: Reilly Smith
#2: Marc-Andre Fleury
#3: William Karlsson

May 20: Stanley Cup-bound

GAME #5: Vegas @ Winnipeg (2-1 VGK)

The Golden Knights jump out to a 1-0 lead 5:11 into the frame on Tuch’s sixth of the postseason. It is the fourth straight game in which the Knights score first.

However, thanks to a strong effort on an unsuccessful power play, Winnipeg regains momentum late in the frame, tying the game with under three minutes left in the opening period on a goal by Josh Morrissey; it is the first postseason goal of his career. Morrissey beats Fleury clean on a set play off a faceoff, making it 1-1 after one.

But in fitting Golden Knights fashion, the storybook magic continues as it is none other than Reaves who gives Vegas a 2-1 lead at 13:21 of the middle frame. It is Reaves’ first goal as a Golden Knight, and his timing couldn’t be much better.

Reaves’ tally proves to be the game-winner as the Knights eliminate the Jets in five games to advance to the Stanley Cup Final. Full recap. What we learned.

Stars of the Game
#1: Alex Tuch
#2: Ryan Reaves
#3: Josh Morrissey


Round Three Statistical Overview

Overall Record: 4-1
Goals For: 14
Goals Against: 10
Power Play: 18.2 percent
Penalty Kill: 76.5 percent
Leading Scorer: Marchessault (4-3—7), Smith (1-4—5), Karlsson (2-1—3), McNabb (1-2—3)
TOI/GP: Schmidt (23:26), Karlsson (20:57), Engelland (20:44), Smith (20:33), McNabb (20:05)
Corsi For % (5v5, >4 GP): Bellemare (51.43), Schmidt (50.94), Nosek (50.79), Reaves (50.00)
Points Per 60 (>4 GP): Marchessault (4.49), Smith (2.92), Nosek (2.89)
Hits/GP (>4 GP): Reaves (3.2), McNabb (3.0), Eakin (2.6), Miller (2.2), Engelland (2.0)
Blocks/GP (>4 GP): Sbisa (3.0), Theodore (2.0), Engelland (1.6), Miller (1.6), McNabb (1.4)
Goalie Stats: Fleury (4-1, 2.02 GAA, .938 SV%, 0 SHO)


Round Four: Vegas vs. Washington

The Vegas Golden Knights are in uncharted territory in the modern era of sports as they find themselves just four wins away from being crowned league champions. Everything about this inaugural season has been hard to believe, but the Knights have earned all 12 of their postseason wins and deserve a shot at the ultimate prize. Both the Golden Knights and Washington Capitals now have a chance to win the first Stanley Cup in franchise history, though it’s impossible to compare the two considering the Capitals have waited 20 years to return to the final. Even so, both teams are hard-working units that roll four lines and have emerged from their respective conferences, which could set up this final showdown to be one for the ages. Only Brooks Orpik and Fleury have lifted Lord Stanley’s Cup, so one way or another there will be a lot of new names and one new team name engraved on the sacred hardware. For both clubs, the rest of the story has yet to be written, though there is only one chapter left in this volume. History is there for the taking; who is going to grab it?