Nationals outfielder and Las Vegas native Bryce Harper is as surprised as anyone that the expansion Golden Knights, his hometown team, are in the Stanley Cup finals.
“I don’t think anybody would’ve expected this, as an organization, as a whole, as a community,” Harper told Scott Braun during an interview on NHL Network over the weekend, which ended with him saying “Go Knights Go.”
“You never expect an expansion team to do what they’ve been doing. I feel like it all starts with [Marc-Andre] Fleury in the net. He’s been doing unbelievable for us this year — or, for them this year. It’s been a lot of fun to watch. They really rallied around the city and the city rallied around them.”
Harper may not have expected the Golden Knights to reach this point, but he at least imagined the possibility that Vegas would face his adopted hometown’s Capitals in the finals. Back on May 1, with Vegas leading its second-round series against the Sharks two-games-to-one and the Capitals and Penguins even at one game apiece, Harper tweeted, “Could you imagine a Golden Knights vs. Capitals Stanley Cup? #Epic.”
Harper was a Chicago Blackhawks fan growing up and he supported the Capitals after being drafted by the Nationals, but he pledged his NHL allegiance to the Golden Knights — Las Vegas’s first major professional sports team — before the season. “Having a team to call my own, it’s so different,” Harper told The Post’s Barry Svrluga earlier this month. “Now I understand why people root for the Nationals, or root for anybody. I’ve got my Vegas Golden Knights.”
The Golden Knights have become a rallying point for Las Vegas natives, just as the Capitals’ first trip to the Stanley Cup finals in 20 years has brought D.C. sports fans together.
“Being born and raised from Vegas, I think a lot of people are very proud of it,” Harper said of the Golden Knights’ improbable run to the Stanley Cup finals. “I know I am. Being able to say that I come from Las Vegas, a lot of people looked at it kind of weird when I was younger, thought I lived in a casino, and didn’t really have a real house to live in. Being able to have a sports team come for the first time, having a team that’s been winning and playing hard and doing it in the city, and also in the rink, it’s huge. They embraced the city the best they can, and we did as well as the team. It’s just a lot of fun to watch, and fun to be a part of. Being a fan for a team for the first time in my life, really, it’s pretty incredible.”
Nationals Manager Davey Martinez and most of Harper’s teammates have thrown their support behind the Capitals during the team’s playoff run, which could lead to some ribbing in the clubhouse over the next two weeks.
“I’m definitely happy for the Caps,” Harper said. “A lot of great players on that team as well. I love Holtby. He’s one of my favorite players. Ovi of course, Carlson. Oshie. What a great club they’ve got. But I was born and raised in Las Vegas, and I support the Golden Knights. It’s going to be a lot of fun, it’s going to be a great series, it’s going to be hard-fought. I’m just happy I’m not on the ice and not getting hit by Tom Wilson, because he hits pretty hard.”
The Nationals have a day game in Baltimore on Monday, so Harper will be able to watch Game 1. He said he hopes to be at Capital One Arena for Game 4, as the Nationals are off that day.
“We’re going to look to go to Game 4 in D.C. next Monday night,” he said. “Hopefully we can get there and I’ll definitely be in the No. 81 [Jonathan] Marchessault jersey. I have an away white, so looking forward to that.”
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