Historic: Vegas Marches into Playoffs After Unprecedented Inaugural Season

After an 8-1-0 start that featured an emotional home-opening victory, the Vegas Golden Knights finished their unprecedented inaugural season with a 51-24-7 record (109 points) and the Pacific Division title.

In doing so, Vegas became the first modern-era expansion team from any of the four North American professional sports leagues to start from scratch and finish first in its division (excluding mergers and all-expansion divisions). With a fifth-place finish overall, Vegas also became the first expansion team from any of the four North American professional sports leagues to start from scratch and finish among the top-five in the league.

The team’s first NHL season was marked by off-ice efforts to help rally a grieving city following a mass shooting on Oct. 1 and on-ice excitement that brought Vegas hockey fans to their feet and into the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The First Month

* The Golden Knights won their first regular-season game when James Neal (2-0—2) and Marc-Andre Fleury (45 saves) – a pair of 2017 Stanley Cup finalists – led the club to victory on Oct. 6 in Dallas.

* Neal scored the winning goal in each of the team’s first three games as Vegas became the first club in the 100-year history of the NHL to begin its inaugural season with a 3-0-0 record.

* The Golden Knights’ home opener began with a ceremony in which first responders accompanied players onto the ice for the first time, a 58-second moment of silence to honor the victims of the shooting and a speech from center ice by defenseman Deryk Engelland, a longtime Las Vegas resident.

* Overall, Neal started 2017-18 with a four-game goal streak (6-0—6) to become the first player in the NHL’s expansion era to score in each of his team’s first four games of its inaugural season.

* Vegas capped its 8-1-0 start with a 7-0 victory on Nevada Day, marking its first five-game winning streak of the season – at the time matching an inaugural season record achieved by two other clubs (1926-27 Rangers and 1979-80 Oilers).

* The club’s historic start was even more remarkable given that Vegas used four goaltenders in its first 10 games (Fleury, Malcolm SubbanOscar Dansk and Maxime Lagace) following a slew of injuries.

* General manager George McPhee and head coach Gerard Gallant used their decades of NHL experience to navigate the challenging situation, putting faith in three rookie netminders: Subban, Dansk, and Lagace. The goaltending trio rose to the occasion as Vegas became the 12th team in League history to have three goalies each earn their first NHL win in the same season.


The Streak

* The Golden Knights faced their first on-ice adversity during their first extended road trip, a six-game stretch from Oct. 30 – Nov. 7 that saw them post a 1-4-1 record. After making his NHL debut in the opener of the road trip, Lagace was thrust into the starter role, with Dylan Ferguson – a call-up from the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers – as his backup in a total of eight consecutive games.

* The club returned to T-Mobile Arena to post its sixth straight home win on Nov. 10 before suffering its worst loss of the season on Nov. 14 at EDM (8-2 L). Ferguson made his NHL debut in the Edmonton game, becoming the fifth goaltender to appear for Vegas.

* The loss to Edmonton was a turning point for Vegas. The Golden Knights won their next five games and posted a 17-3-1 record from Nov. 16 – Jan. 2 to move into first place in the Pacific Division and Western Conference.

* That 21-game stretch saw Vegas post its eighth consecutive home win and ended with an eight-game winning streak and 13-game point streak (12-0-1) – both NHL records for a team in its inaugural season.

* The eight-game winning streak began Dec. 14 when Fleury defeated the Penguins – with whom he won three Stanley Cups – in his second start following a 25-game absence. It was Vegas’ 20th win of the season in just its 31st contest.

* The Golden Knights took over the top spot in the Western Conference for the second time on Dec. 19 – they held the position for one day following their fifth win – with a dramatic victory over the League-leading Lightning.

The Finish

* The Golden Knights overtook the Lightning for first place in the entire NHL on Jan. 21 and 11 days later posted their 34th victory to set the NHL record for wins by a team in its inaugural season – with 32 games remaining.

* Over the course of the remainder of 2017-18, the Golden Knights would continue to shatter records for a franchise in its inaugural NHL season, including longest home point streak (10-0-2 from Dec. 3 – Jan. 23), most home wins (finishing with 29), most road wins (finishing with 22) and most overall points(finishing with 109).

* On March 26, Vegas became the third expansion team since 1968-69 – and first to start from scratch – to clinch a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs (also EDM and HFD in 1979-80). In addition to the Golden Knights, Oilers and Whalers, only four other expansion clubs from any of the four North American professional sports leagues qualified for the playoffs in their inaugural seasons.

* In one of the most memorable games of the 2017-18 season, Vegas retired No. 58 to remember the 58 victims of the city’s Oct. 1 mass shooting before clinching the Pacific Division title off a breathtaking go-ahead goal by leading scorer William Karlsson.

* The Golden Knights became the first modern-era expansion team from any of the four North American professional sports leagues to start from scratch and finish first in its division (excluding mergers and all-expansion divisions, according to Elias).

* With a fifth-place finish overall, Vegas became the first expansion team from any of the four North American professional sports leagues to start from scratch and finish among the top-five in the league (since 1961, excluding 1967-68 NHL season). Elias notes that the 1976-77 Denver Nuggets tied for second place overall in their first NBA campaign after joining from the American Basketball Association.


Top Performers

* The Golden Knights success was backed by career-best performances by 11 different players, most notably forward William Karlsson who finished third in the League with 43 goals (43-35—78 in 82 GP) after posting 6-19—25 with Columbus in 2016-17 (w/ CBJ). Only five players scored more goals while playing on a team in its inaugural season.

Jonathan Marchessault (27-48—75 in 77 GP) finished second in team scoring and second in the League in plus-minus (+36), behind Karlsson (+49). Only seven players in NHL history posted more points for a team in its inaugural season, including only one other who did so after the 1979-80 expansion.

* After effectively managing their early-season goaltending carousel, the Golden Knights settled in with Marc-Andre Fleury starting 42 of their final 53 games. The veteran netminder posted a 29-13-4 record to climb four spots on the NHL’s all-time wins list, finishing the campaign with 404 career wins – three behind Glenn Hall (407) for 10th place.

Erik Haula (29-26—55 in 76 GP), James Neal (25-19—44 in 71 GP) and Reilly Smith (22-38—60 in 67 GP) also hit the 20-goal mark as Vegas tied for fourth in the NHL with 272 goals. Only two teams finished their first NHL campaign with more goals: the Whalers (303) and Oilers (301) both eclipsed 300 goals in 1979-80, teams that featured the top two goal-scorers in NHL history in Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky.

* General manager George McPhee began constructing the Golden Knights upon his hiring on July 13, 2016, selecting Gerard Gallant as the team’s first head coach on April 13, 2017. Calculated decisions at the NHL Expansion Draft, NHL Draft and throughout the season led him to his eighth division title and 11th Stanley Cup Playoffs appearance as a GM. Gallant, meanwhile, has led his club to a division title in each of his past two full seasons as head coach (also FLA in 2015-16).

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