The Vegas Golden Knights continued their improbable run on Sunday by advancing to the Stanley Cup Final with a 2-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals.
No one would have expected an expansion team built on the players that other teams valued slightly less to be competing for the championship just 11 months into their existence.
That includes team owner Bill Foley, who told ESPN’s Emily Kaplan in August that his expectations for the team were low.
“We don’t have high expectations for this year,” Foley said. “We’re going to be competitive. If we’re going to lose a game, we’d like to lose by a goal or two, not lose by five or six. We don’t want to be a walkover team. We want to be competitive, we want to be entertaining on the ice, we want to score some goals.”
Foley also said that he hoped the team could be competing for the Stanley Cup in five to six years.
“So we just need do well for a couple years, then make the playoffs in three years as we start transitioning in some of these younger guys … We’ll be pretty good in three years, and we’ll make a run in five or six.”
Instead, the Golden Knights are making a run nine months after his proclamation.
The Knights have been led by goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, a castoff from Pittsburgh who had previously helped lead the Penguins to three Stanley Cups. Fleury has a .947 save percentage in these playoffs and is the leading contender for the Conn Smythe Trophy.
But after Fleury, it’s been a well-rounded effort. Three players have six or more goals in the postseason, led by center Jonathan Marchessault, who has eight. Marchessault, right wing Reilly Smith, and center William Karlsson all have double-digit points as well, with Smith leading the charge in passing with 16 assists.
The effort and leadership have been so even, that ESPN’s hockey reporters even debated who has been the best skater on the team in the postseason. There isn’t an obvious answer.
The Knights are just four wins away from becoming only the other sports team besides the St. Louis Blues to reach the championship in their first season. Even if they fall short, they’re way ahead of schedule.