The Vegas Golden Knights were supposed to be two years away from being two years away. Their roster was a group of misassembled unwanted parts from other franchises. This was going to be the downtrodden era of punishment nearly all expansion franchises go through.
Ryan Reaves scored the go-ahead goal in the second period and Marc-Andre Fleury stayed red-hot in net, as the Knights advanced to the Stanley Cup Final with a 2-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday. Vegas won the best-of-seven series 4-1.
By any reasonable measure, the Knights have clinched their spot as the greatest expansion franchise in sports history. They are the first team since 1968 in any of the four major professional sports leagues to reach their respective championship round in their first season.
Under modern standards, what Vegas has done is almost unfathomable.
The Knights were already the first expansion team since 1980 to make the postseason and are now the first in NHL history to make the Final in their first season. They reached as high as 100-1 odds to win the conference, per the William Hill sportsbook.
But their run isn't just unprecedented in the NHL. No NFL modern franchise has ever been better than 7-9 in its first season. No expansion franchise in the NBA since the merger has made the postseason in any of its first three years. Not one has done it in its first season in Major League Baseball.
The Knights are a modern marvel, defying all expectations from the moment they got together. They began the season a surprise 8-1 and went on to finish third in the Western Conference in points. Vegas then made light work of each of its postseason opponents, dropping only three total games over the Western playoffs.
Fleury, the former stalwart of the Pittsburgh Penguins who they paid to get rid of, once again led the charge. He stopped 31 of the 32 shots that went his way. The 33-year-old has given up two or fewer goals in 10 of the Knights' 12 playoff wins.
"It's experience," Fleury told Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "You go through stuff. You learn from the tough ones. Those are the ones you learn the most from. You learn from the good, too. I was fortunate to have different goalie coaches over my career. Everybody has been contributing to help me work on things, change things here and there. That makes me who I am today."
Reaves, much like the team that employs him, was about as unlikely of a hero as you can find. Traded from Pittsburgh at the deadline, the defenseman had not scored a goal in any of his first 26 games with the franchise. He had a grand total of one point in his previous 41 playoff games.
Alex Tuch added the other goal for Vegas, his sixth of the postseason.
Vegas will move on to either play the Tampa Bay Lightning or the Washington Capitals. Tampa Bay leads its best-of-seven series 3-2 heading into Monday's Game 6.
The Capitals have never won a championship; the Lightning last won in 2004.