LAS VEGAS — As the Golden Knights rolled up the score in the third period in Game 5 against the Florida Panthers Tuesday night en route to capturing the Stanley Cup at T-Mobile Arena, I was asked if this was going to be the greatest moment in Las Vegas sports history?
Not individual moments like a boxing match, an MMA contest, a golf tournament or an auto race. Strictly a team sports accomplishment.
I had covered UNLV’s run to the NCAA men’s basketball championship in 1990 so I definitely had some perspective for what had been the No. 1 moment this city had seen.
But it’s hard to define what the Golden Knights did in comparison to what the Runnin’ Rebels accomplished. For starters, we’re talking about a major league professional sports franchise vs. a college program. It’s hockey vs. basketball. The community was vastly different then compared to now.
In 1990, there were roughly 700,000 people living in Southern Nevada. In 2023, there are 2.8 million residents. When UNLV was going well, the only professional sport in town was minor league baseball. Today, we have the NFL and the WNBA to go along with the NHL and it appears we’re going to be getting a Major League Baseball team. The NBA may not be far off. So it’s a far more crowded sports market now for the Golden Knights, and, for that matter, UNLV to operate in when it comes to competing for the discretionary dollar.
All that said, I believe what we witnessed at T-Mobile Arena is the singular greatest moment in the city’s sports history. No disrespect to what UNLV accomplished. Let’s remember the Rebels went to three Final Fours in a five-year span and Jerry Tarkanian remains the most important sports figure to grace the city.
But let’s not forget what the Golden Knights have done in their brief six-year existence. Two trips to the Stanley Cup Final, including Tuesday’s championship. Two other trips to the NHL’s Final Four and barely missing the playoffs last year for the lone blemish on the franchise’s dossier.
That’s a lot of success in a short period.
Perhaps more important, we should remember what this franchise was born into. It had played its final preseason game on Oct. 1, 2017 and shortly after the final horn had sounded, shots rang out on a concert ground across from Mandalay Bay. Sixty people would ultimately die, 58 that evening, while hundreds more were injured. It remains the largest mass shooting in the history of this nation and that’s saying something given the spate of senseless violence we continue to be subjected to.
And while the players and team management still were trying to get comfortable in their new environment, they made it a point to get out in the community the day after and offer whatever support they could to a city which was numb and hurting in the wake of what it had experienced less than 24 hours before.
That gesture has never been forgotten and I’m convinced it is why the Golden Knights, not the Raiders, not the Aces, who had their own successful championship run last summer, not any other sports team, remains the favorite of the citizens here.
Which, in my opinion, is why the Stanley Cup title won by the Golden Knights Tuesday night puts them at the front of the line.
But there are a couple of comparisons between the Knights and UNLV that should be noted. Both teams turned in dominant performances in winning their respective championships. The Rebels’ 103-73 win over Duke in Denver is still the largest margin of victory in an NCAA title game. The Golden Knights pumped in a franchise-record nine goals Tuesday in ousting the Panthers 9-3, the second-largest margin of victory in a Stanley Cup close-out game.
And if you look at the Golden Knights’ run to the Cup, they lost Game 1 to Winnipeg in the first round, then reeled off four straight to eliminate the Jets. In round two, they broke a 2-2 series tie with Edmonton, beating the Oilers in Game 6, 8-3 to advance to the Western Conference Finals against Dallas.
They held a 3-0 series lead over the Stars, dropped two straight, but won Game 6 6-0 to advance to the Stanley Cup Final. It may have been their best night of the entire playoffs, though you could make a case for Tuesday, where it was 6-1 going into the third period.
The Knights were an amazing plus-31 in goal differential throughout the postseason. Their special teams kept Florida’s power play off the scoresheet as the Cats went 0-for-13 with the man advantage. Nineteen different Vegas players tallied at least one goal during the playoffs and Jonathan Marchessault, the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as the MVP of the playoffs, had 13 goals and 25 points, one point less than linemate Jack Eichel who made the most of his first-ever playoff appearance with six goals and 26 points. And the team got an amazing performance from Adin Hill in goal. Hill who took over the chores in Game 2 against the Oilers, stayed in the crease the rest of the way.
Add it all up and it is a remarkable accomplishment.
I would venture to guess that many of today’s Golden Knights supporters, certainly the kids in town, weren’t around or old enough to remember 1990 when UNLV won it all and the parade down Fremont Street, up the Strip and ending at the Thomas & Mack Center drew a huge crowd. I imagine the crowd for the Golden Knights’ parade, which apparently will be held Saturday on a yet-to-be-announced route, will be well attended.
For those who missed out on UNLV’s celebration, this is their moment and one they will cherish. And for those who were around when Tark and his Rebels won it all, embrace both accomplishments. It is still an important moment in our city’s sports history. We should celebrate the two and those who achieved them.