Detroit — The improbable story of the Vegas Golden Knights continues to show no signs of ending.
And, really, what a story it is.
A staggering 227 days after their first game in franchise history, the Golden Knights are heading to the Stanley Cup Final.
They earned that chance after eliminating Winnipeg in the Western Conference Finals.
“It’s insane. If you go back to the beginning of the season, your goal is always to make the playoffs,” Vegas defenseman Deryk Engelland said. “But if I were to guess I would be sitting here doing this right now, you would be a little skeptical at the time.
“But once we got rolling, we saw we have a team that can do some damage and a phenomenal goalie that's going to stop everything. It’s been an amazing ride. We just want to keep it going now.”
At this point, there’s no analyst out there who doesn’t believe the Golden Knights are capable of finishing the job.
Especially after the run they’ve had this season.
The Golden Knights had an expansion-record 109 points in the regular season, including winning the Pacific Division over expected-to-be contenders such as Los Angeles, San Jose and Anaheim.
Expected to be quick, first-round fodder in the playoffs by many analysts, Vegas then swept Los Angeles in four games.
Expected to fall to San Jose’s playoff experience in the Round 2 the Golden Knights, instead, knocked out the Sharks in six games.
Then, in the Western Conference Finals, playing a Winnipeg team that was generally considered the most well-rounded of the four teams remaining, Vegas lost Game 1 — then won the next four games to win the series.
“It’s been awesome ride so far. But again, this isn’t what we want,” said coach Gerard Gallant, the former Red Wings forward who has received much credit for his handling of a collection of players who were left unprotected by 30 other teams. “We want to win. We’re far from satisfied.”
Gallant molded the castoffs into a fast-playing team — with depth — and unexpected offense throughout the lineup.
But, one major advantage, was — and has been — the goaltending of Marc-Andre Fleury.
The Stanley Cup-winning goaltender in Pittsburgh was left unprotected by the Penguins in the expansion draft and has been a stabilizing force on and off the ice for Vegas.
“I don’t know what I can say, he’s been excellent, he’s been our best player,” Gallant said. “When we need him for big saves, he comes up with them.”
Fleury lost his starting job the last two years in Pittsburgh to Matt Murray, making the veteran netminder expendable.
But playing some of the best hockey of his career this spring Fleury, 33, is 12-3 in the playoffs with a 1.68 goals-against average and .947 save percentage, with four shutouts.
“He’s showing us the way home,” Vegas defenseman Nate Schmidt said. “The guy has won a couple of Stanley Cups (last two years) but it may not have been the way he wanted to do it the last couple of years.
“For him to be back here, it shows how great of a teammate he is and why our guys love playing in front of him.”
Tomas Tatar was dealt from the Red Wings to Vegas at the trade deadline in late February.
Talking about his new team’s success, Tatar said recently it wasn’t surprising to him the Golden Knights have defied the odds and are on the brink of a Stanley Cup.
“I don’t think any of the analysts, or a lot of people, expected us to be here,” Tatar said. “(But) when I watched them, even when was I back in Detroit, I knew they were a real good team.
“Play real fast, roll four lines, great goaltending, it’s a not a surprise to me.
“We’re just going to keep doing what we’ve been doing, playing one game at a time, one series at a time.”
Washington vs. Tampa Bay
Series tied 3-3
Game 1: Washington 4, Tampa Bay 2
Game 2: Washington 6, Tampa Bay 2
Game 3: Tampa Bay 4, Washington 2
Game 4: Tampa Bay 4, Washington 2
Game 5: Tampa Bay 3, Washington 2
Game 6: Washington 3, Tampa Bay 0
Wednesday: Washington at Tampa Bay, 8
Vegas vs. Winnipeg
Vegas wins series 4-1
Game 1: Winnipeg 4, Vegas 2
Game 2: Vegas 3, Winnipeg 1
Game 3: Vegas 4, Winnipeg 2
Game 4: Vegas 3, Winnipeg 2
Game 5: Vegas 2, Winnipeg 1