For Vegas Hockey, A True Knightmare

Made a quick trip to Las Vegas to actually interact with visiting business colleagues.  I’ve truly missed business travel, and part of my ritual is to sample morning news and sportscasts to get a flavor on what’s going on of significance if for no other reason than to make small talk with cabbies and bellhops, which often have allowed me to get away with tipping less and not get spit on.

Yesterday there was considerable consternation about the plight of the Vegas Golden Knights, the city’s five-year-old NHL franchise.  The Knights had by far the most successful first season of any recent expansion team, winning the Western Conference in 2018 before bowing to soon-to-be all-time goal scorer Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals.  Last season, they made it to the Western Conference finals before bowing to Canadian Division champion Montreal, a one-time aberration that placed the Knights in the same bracket as every Canadian team, who themselves played in a segregated bubble during the regular season.

And early this season, determined to win a conference championship again with a more typical geography-based setup, they forged a trade for disgruntled Buffalo Sabres star and onetime college standout Jack Eichel, believing his firepower would be the catalyst for such a run. And for the earlier part of the year, things were looking good for both Jack and the Knights.

In recent weeks, though, Eichel has been mediocre , the Knights have exhibited a maddening habit of blowing leads late, and last night faced a must-win situation as they battled for a wild card playoff berth in Dallas against the Stars, who currently hold the second such ticket and #8 seed for next week’s Stanley Cup Playoffs.  Under interim coach Peter DeBoer, the Knights have been tinkering and overthinking in recent weeks, even replacing their starting goaltender in a recent game after giving up just one first period goal.  No injury.  Just a hunch.

The Knights had an early lead, but the Stars rode the hot hand of their 40-goal scorer Jason Robertson to eventually force overtime.  Knights goalie Logan Thompson and Stars netmider Jake Oettinger then proceeded to put on a masterclass in clutch saves, with the shootout going six stanzas apeice without either one of them allowing a goal.  Then, it the seventh round, Miro Heiskanen drilled a backhander past Thompson, Oettinger made a seventh save, and the Stars emerged with a critical 3-2 win.  The Stars have a four-point advantage over the Knights with two games apiece remaining. One more Stars point, and the Knights’ season will end.

As a Rangers’ fan who has had one Cup and three Finals appearances in his lifetime, my heart bleeds for the Knights fans who were blessed with such early success.  For someone who isn’t a fan of Eichel, who effectively whined his way out of Buffalo, there’s a bit of karma in evidence here.  I can’t fault him for wanting a better climate weather-wise, but effectively throwing a Buffalo franchise now 51 years lacking their own cup back several years more wasn’t exactly endearing behavior.  I take more than a little solace in the fact that his replacement as the Sabres’ top offensive threat, Tage Thompson, now has one more goal this season than Eichel’s best season in Western New York.

And as for the Knights–well, even Vegas’ highest rollers eventually crap out.  So barring an absolute miracle in the next 48 hours they will sit out these playoffs and look to regroup.  Likely, there will be a new coach and perhaps a bit more front office discipline.  And I’ll have to look a little harder to follow the story, because as we all know what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.

Courage…. 

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