Vegas first to clinch playoff berth in inaugural season since '79-80

ByEMILY KAPLAN via <a href="" title="ESPN" class="espn_sc_byline">ESPN </a>
March 27, 2018, 12:54 AM

The Vegas Golden Knights have defied the odds -- they are going to the Stanley Cup playoffs.

With a 4-1 victory over the Colorado Avalanche on Monday night, Vegas became the first NHL team to clinch a playoff berth in its inaugural season since the Oilers and Whalers did so in 1979-80.

The Oilers, whose roster included Wayne Gretzky, and the Whalers, featuring Gordie Howe, came from the WHA following a merger. The Golden Knights entered the NHL this season after owner Bill Foley paid a $500 million expansion fee.

Though their expansion draft format was more favorable than previous expansion years, the Golden Knights opened the season with the worst odds -- 500-1 -- to win the Stanley Cup, according to the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook. Those odds have now improved to 7-1.

Vegas is currently in first place in the Pacific Division. With 103 points, the Knights are only four points back of the Nashville Predators in the race for the Presidents' Trophy for the league's best record.

Of 64 expansion teams among the four major U.S. sports leagues since 1960, Vegas is the first to even have a winning record.

While Vegas is the fifth NHL expansion team -- not including mergers like the Oilers and Whalers -- to make the playoffs since the league first spread its wings beyond the Original Six in 1967-68, the other four did so with somewhat of an asterisk attached.

The first six expansions teams, in '67-68, were all placed in the West Division together, with the Original Six making up the East. That not only guaranteed that four of the expansion teams would make the playoffs -- despite none of them having a winning record -- but that one of them would be in the Stanley Cup Final.

The only non-NHL expansion team to make the playoffs in that time frame is the 1966-67 Chicago Bulls, who finished 33-48 in their first NBA season.

Interestingly, the Golden Knights are in the playoffs in a season in which four of the Original Six teams -- Detroit, Chicago, Montreal and the New York Rangers -- will be sitting out the postseason.

Vegas has played well at home, going 27-9-2 at T-Mobile Arena, and has sold seats at 103.7 percent capacity, third best in the NHL behind the Chicago Blackhawks and Minnesota Wild.

Vegas has surged behind career years from players such as center William Karlsson (40 goals, previous career high was nine), winger Jonathan Marchessault (72 points, previous career high was 51) and winger David Perron (66 points, previous career high was 57).

Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, a three-time Stanley Cup winner with the Pittsburgh Penguins, has missed some time with injury, but has been impressive with a .931 save percentage and 2.12 GAA in 43 starts.

The playoff clincher was also the 200th career coaching victory for Gerard Gallant.

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