The Vegas Golden Knights authored another chapter Sunday in what has become one of the most remarkable stories in recent North American sports history. In its first season of existence, the expansion franchise is now just four victories away from claiming the Stanley Cup after dispatching the Winnipeg Jets to win the Western Conference finals.
In the wake of the Las Vegas-based team’s 2-1 win, which clinched a finals showdown against either the Tampa Bay Lightning or the Washington Capitals, many were hailing the squad for its stunning accomplishment. There were also more than a few who took the opportunity to make playful references to the Golden Knights’ “long-suffering” fans.
In response, a Las Vegas-oriented Twitter account posted a message to “every sports writer in the world,” in which it said, “We don’t care about ‘long-suffering’ cities that haven’t won anything in decades and now have to watch an expansion team reach the finals. Vegas is a 113[-year-]old city that wasn’t allowed to have a pro sports team FOR THE FIRST 112 YEARS.”
That’s a solid point, as Las Vegas’s long-standing status as a gamblers’ paradise kept major professional leagues from allowing teams to move or originate there until the NHL awarded the city an expansion franchise in June 2016. Sportswriter snark aside, however, the Golden Knights’ instant success could understandably come as frustrating, if not outright maddening, to fans of some other hockey teams.
Those teams include the Jets, who have never made the Stanley Cup finals over two versions, the first of which was a World Hockey Association club that joined the NHL in 1979 before moving in 1996 to Phoenix and becoming the Coyotes (who also have never made the finals). The more recent incarnation began life as the expansion Atlanta Thrashers in 1999, making the playoffs just once before relocating to Winnipeg in 2011, where the reborn Jets had one postseason appearance and no series wins before this year.
The relative success of the Capitals, who have progressed beyond the second round for the first time since their only Stanley Cup finals berth in 1998 — a sweep at the hands of the Detroit Red Wings — has generated some national discussion of the “long-suffering” nature of their supporters, not to mention D.C. sports fans in general. Then there are fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs and the St. Louis Blues, who are stuck with the longest active finals droughts in the league.
As SB Nation and others pointed out, going back from the Golden Knights, the past three first-year NHL teams to make the finals have done so at 50-year intervals, including the 1967-68 Blues and the 1917-18 Toronto Arenas, who changed their name to the St. Patricks in 1919 before becoming the Maple Leafs in 1927. Blues fans are painfully aware of the fact that their squad made the finals in each of its first three seasons but never won the Cup and hasn’t been back to that round since, while the Maple Leafs have given residents of hockey-mad Toronto angst for decades, as they have not been to the finals since winning the Cup in 1967.
At least, though, actually long-suffering fans in St. Louis and Toronto could, if they so chose, root for pro teams in other sports that have had major success over the years, including the Cardinals, Rams (before they moved back to Los Angeles, of course), Blue Jays and Argonauts (probably not the best time to mention the Raptors). Las Vegas sports fans could cheer for UNLV, particularly during the school’s heyday under former basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian, but the Golden Knights gave them the first major professional team to call their own, and its dizzying ascent has been a galvanizing story for a city that suffered a mass shooting just before its inaugural season began.
No less a Sin City institution than Wayne Newton expressed that sentiment recently, telling the Las Vegas Review-Journal, “It’s been unbelievable, the timing of all this. I’ve said, ever since we had the tragedy on Oct. 1, that if anything positive can come from that event, it is that the world can see the passion Las Vegas has. This has always been a very passionate community, and we’re seeing it with this team.”
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” the 76-year-old “Danke Schoen” singer added. “Everywhere I go, people are talking about this team. I never thought, in all the years I’ve lived in Las Vegas, we’d see an ice hockey team take over this city.”
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