As an expansion team, the Vegas Golden Knights have defied all sorts of odds.
Long shots to even make the playoffs seven months ago, they are a favorite to hoist the Stanley Cup in June. Behind the stellar play of goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, the Golden Knights completed a sweep of the Los Angeles Kings to move into the second round against San Jose.
That puts the Golden Knights in some rare company as they became the first expansion team in NHL history to sweep a series in their inaugural season . The Pittsburgh Penguins recorded a sweep in their first playoffs appearance in 1970, which was their third season in the NHL. Not to be overlooked are the St. Louis Blues, who made three straight Stanley Cup finals beginning in 1967-68 after the league expanded and threw all the new teams into the same division. The Florida Panthers also had early success, going to the 1996 Finals three years after entering the league.
“We’re just trying to be as good as we can be,” Vegas general manager George McPhee said. “No one knows what exactly is going to happen. We think we’re a pretty good club, but we’ll keep trying to do what we’re doing and see where it takes us.”
After a few days off, the crew gets back to work with the Sharks looming.
Asked if the down time was good for his squad, McPhee responded: “This is not like the bye week where they have five days off and they’re not skating or they’re not training. We’re not going to Mexico.”
A look at a few of the expansion/charter teams that found success early:
Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars
Carolina went 7-9 in its inaugural season in 1995 with Kerry Collins leading the way. The Panthers made it to the NFC championship game one season later, losing 30-13 to Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers. Jacksonville followed a similar path. The Jaguars went 4-12 in `95 and then caught fire and made it to the AFC championship game the next season behind QB Mark Brunell, before a 20-6 loss to New England.
OK, their first season wasn’t all that dazzling at 27-55 in 1968-69. But then the Bucks drafted a center named Lew Alcindor – now known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – with the No. 1 pick. In 1970-71, the Bucks captured an NBA title by sweeping the Baltimore Bullets. Oscar Robertson wasn’t too bad for Milwaukee, either.
Starting in 1998, the Diamondbacks got off to a 65-97 mark. Three seasons later, with Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling leading the rotation, they were World Series champions. Arizona beat the New York Yankees in Game 7, with Luis Gonzalez bringing home the winning run with a single off closer Mariano Rivera in the bottom of the ninth inning.
The Major League Soccer team was the best of the best in the charter league. The squad captured three of the first four MLS Cups – 1996, ‘97 and ‘98. Their first coach was Bruce Arena.
Donald J. Trump owned the New Jersey Generals in the fledgling USFL, which ran from 1983-85, but the Stars ruled. The Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars reached the championship game all three years, winning the title twice. They lost to the Michigan Panthers in the 1983 championship game, then beat the Arizona Wranglers to cap the 1983-84 season. After relocating to Baltimore, the Stars beat the Oakland Invaders for their second straight title in the league’s last hurrah. The team was coached by Jim Mora and their quarterback was Chuck Fusina, the former Penn State standout who finished runner-up to Oklahoma’s Billy Sims in the 1978 Heisman race.
AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Stapleton contributed.
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