LAS VEGAS – They’ve come up with a clever slogan here that perfectly captures everything you need to know about the Vegas Golden Knights‘ unlikely charge towards the Stanley Cup.
Welcome to Impossible.
It was written across the white towels that turned T-Mobile Arena into a blender of mayhem on the opening night of this championship series. Ten goals, five lead changes and a late hit from Tom Wilson that will draw another debate about whether the Washington Capitals agitator should be suspended. Oh, and an uncalled cross-check from Ryan Reaves moments before he scored his second big goal in as many games after going three months without one.
"I was saving them," Reaves said after a wild 6-4 Vegas victory. "I don’t know if you guys knew but I told everybody I was going to save them for the playoffs."
There was something for everyone in a Game 1 that likely won’t look like anything that follows it in this series. Michael Buffer delivered a brilliant opening, introducing the teams like prizefighters, and then we watched them trade goals as if they were heavyweights exchanging punches with a belt on the line.
Vegas led 1-0. Washington led 2-1. Vegas led 3-2. Washington led 4-3.
"A lot of up and down, man, I got to tell ya. A lot of lead changes, right?" said Golden Knights defenceman Nate Schmidt, who described the energy in the building as a "palpable force."
"A lot of times when you feel like the game’s going a direction – you score, then they score – a lot of emotion," Schmidt added. "You’ve just got to make sure you keep it in check. It was a pretty emotional game for everybody. I think the fans got their money’s worth tonight."
You need not be a hockey aficionado to appreciate what went on here. This was entertainment, pure and simple, right from the kitschy pre-game show to the emotion spilling over late after the Reaves and Wilson incidents.
What are the odds, you might ask, of Vegas escaping with a win on a night where Marc-Andre Fleury posted an .857 save percentage and accidentally kicked a puck into his own goal? Or how about Braden Holtby, for that matter, coming off back-to-back shutouts to close out the Eastern Conference final and getting beaten five times?
It was a product of some sloppy play in front of the goaltenders, but also two teams just going for it in the biggest game in the respective history of their franchises.
"It’s not really magical play we’re doing. It’s nothing like a crazy recipe," said Vegas forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. "We’re just trying to outwork who we’re playing against, and tonight we got rewarded."
This has the makings of a long, tough series. There was so little to separate the teams on Monday night. Vegas controlled 50.83 per cent of the even-strength shot attempts, but Washington had 52 per cent of the scoring chances and 53.33 per cent of the high-danger opportunities.
The Golden Knights found one more play, with Shea Theodore stepping off the blue line and sliding a perfect pass across to fourth-liner Tomas Nosek on the winner at 9:44 of the third period. He was wide open. Holtby had no shot.
A fast, relentless forecheck by Vegas created problems for the visitors. But Washington had its share of chances, too.
"I think we were disappointed the way we played overall," said Capitals centre Nicklas Backstrom. "The good thing is we scored four goals, but I think we’re all aware we’ve got to be better next game. Vegas is a good team, they have a lot of speed and are creating a lot and we’ve got to make sure we’re on the right side in the defensive zone.
"That’s key No. 1 we’ve got to be aware of."
The biggest talking point as we move towards Game 2 will be the status of Wilson, who was suspended three games in Round 2 and laid Jonathan Marchessault out with a late, blindside hit. That infuriated the Golden Knights.
George Parros and the department of player safety have a tough call to make given how often they’ve had to deal with Wilson this season.
"I think the league is going to take care of it," said Marchessault. "I never see him coming. Puck is away for a couple seconds for sure. But, whatever, he’s a guy who plays hard, throws big hits out there. That’s just the way it goes sometimes."
Added Reaves: "That’s just Wilson being Wilson."
There was no dipping a toe in the water with so much on the line. We dove head-first into this Stanley Cup Final.
You would never have expected the opener to go this way – not with Vegas having just finished a Western Conference final with Winnipeg where a lead didn’t change hands once – but if there’s any lesson to be taken from this charmed Golden Knights season it’s to expect the unexpected.
They are now one notch closer to making the impossible possible but there isn’t a player in that dressing room who is using that language.
"That’s everybody else’s term for it," said Reaves. "It’s definitely possible for us."
Three wins away now. Unbelievable.