Vegas Returns to Playoffs, but Is Their Window Still Open?
The Vegas Golden Knights become the first West team to clinch a playoff spot after completely missing out a season prior
We all laughed and had fun when the Vegas Golden Knights missed the playoffs last season, didn't we? For all of their bluster, for all of their pomp and circumstance in spite of not winning the Stanley Cup, for all of their arrogance and excuse-making, the Golden Knights completely missed the playoffs in the 2021-22 season--the first time that they missed the playoffs in their brief franchise history. Not a single tear was shed for them. I know I wasn't crying for them; I was too busy laughing. However, I also realized something right then and there: Vegas is going to strike back somehow.
And strike back they did. The Golden Knights got off to an explosive start to the 2022-23 season, which proves that the best revenge truly is just living well. The team has held on to the best record in the Western Conference for a good bit of the season, and they actually had the chance to clinch a spot in this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs on March 28, but things didn't go as planned. The scenarios became a bit simpler two days later, and when the Nashville Predators were blanked by the Pittsburgh Penguins, it was party time in Vegas.
After five Eastern Conference teams clinched their spots, the Vegas Golden Knights became the first Western Conference team to lock in a spot in the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs, doing so before taking the ice for their own game. I knew this would happen. Yes, I had fun watching the Knights get eliminated during the regular season, but I knew it would be a one-off. That team is too good to have an actual playoff drought. The team has a lot of talented players, but there is one in particular who I want to discuss.
It's finally happened. Jack Eichel is in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Eichel spent the better part of seven seasons with the Buffalo Sabres, serving as a highly talented consolation prize for the team after they didn't win the Connor McDavid lottery. Though he served as the face of the Sabres, it would not result in playoff appearances for Buffalo, who is still in the midst of the longest current playoff drought in the NHL. As we all know, Eichel's exit from the Sabres was quite controversial, and he ended up traded to the Golden Knights during the 2021-22 season. Even then, Eichel still wouldn't get his first taste of the playoffs because that was the one year that Vegas didn't make it. This season is his first full one with Vegas, and he has put up the numbers: 27 goals, 32 assists, 59 points in 61 games.
So the playoff picture is starting to shape up just a bit. The Boston Bruins won the Presidents' Trophy, meaning they'll face the 2nd Wild Card in the East, while the 1st Wild Card will face whoever wins the Metropolitan. As for Vegas, their lead in the Western Conference is slim, and while they have a good chance to finish with the West's top record, there's a matter of what the result will be. The goal for that team is Cup or bust. Remember: this team was three wins away from the Stanley Cup in their very first season. It's been downhill ever since, though; a blown 3-1 series lead in Round 1 in 2019, followed by back-to-back Final Four losses in 2020 and 2021 (the latter to a Canadiens team who was clearly the worst team in the playoffs), and missing out completely in 2022. If their window is still open, it's not wide. It's a crack. They better win the whole thing this year, because if they don't, they may never be considered an actual cup contender ever again.
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