Marc-Andre Fleury sat shirtless in front of his locker Authentic Barkevious Mingo Jersey , staring blankly, his exhausted gaze fixed nowhere. Pads still strapped to his legs after another spectacular night’s work, the Vegas Golden Knights goalie looked as if he were trying to gather his thoughts, trying somehow to make sense of it all.
The rest of the hockey world is, too, as the newly minted Knights play Sunday with the most improbable prize of all at stake – a chance to go to the Stanley Cup Final.
The story is well known by now, or at least it should be. But the fantasy has never been so close to reality as it is now, with the Knights up 3-1 going into Sunday’s game against the Jets in Winnipeg.
An expansion team born last October on the heels of the Las Vegas massacre that took 58 lives is on the brink of winning it all, confounding both hockey experts and expert bookies alike.
Even the guys on the other team are shaking their heads at what the hockey gods wrought.
”You know it’s just the stars are just aligning for them,” Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck said. ”But it’s not going to stay that way.”
Maybe not, partly because hockey is a notoriously fickle game. But in this gambling town the odds are suddenly in the house’s favor.
With the hope they don’t have to play at home again until the Stanley Cup Final, the Knights trotted out some old Vegas mojo Friday night with Wayne Newton and the Blue Man Group making appearances to root the team on. The Backstreet Boys were there and rapper Lil Jon took the microphone to lead the cheers just before Reilly Smith punched in the go-ahead goal in the third period.
And, of course, this being Las Vegas the guy doing the anthems was a singing gondolier whose day job is serenading tourists in the faux canals of Venice just across the street.
There’s nothing fake about this team now one win from one of most improbable runs ever. Once 500-1 longshots to win the Stanley Cup in their first year, the Knights are now favored – at least in the sports books – to win it all.
It’s enough to make even Bark-Andre Furry – the lovable canine and goalie namesake who is now the unofficial team mascot – to sit up and take notice.
”It’s nice Authentic Minkah Fitzpatrick Jersey , but the last one is always the toughest to get,” Fleury said. ”I think we have to keep the same mind set and just go and take it one game at a time and not think too far ahead and be ready to play that next game because they are going to be coming hard.”
That mentality has worked well for a team that began the season as an afterthought, a collection of unwanted players from other teams thrown together in hopes of winning a respectable number of games in their first year. The coach himself, Gerard Gallant, had been unceremoniously fired from the Florida Panthers, left on the side of a road with his luggage as the team bus headed down the road.
It’s been a remarkable run for a team that likes to call itself the Golden Misfits. They’ve struck gold in Las Vegas, a town that loves winners and has embraced its first major pro sports team.
Just how remarkable? Well, consider that while the Knights are five wins from bringing home the Stanley Cup in their first year, the Toronto Maple Leafs – a member of the NHL’s exclusive Original Six club – haven’t won one in the last 51 years.
On Friday, the Knights used the same formula – speed and stellar goaltending – that has worked for them all year to beat the Jets 3-1 and take a commanding advantage in the Western Conference finals. It was the third straight win for the Knights, who have no illusion on how tough getting win No. 4 will be.
”No team is going to go out quietly this time of the year,” Gallant said.
Still, everything seems to be aligning in the Knights’ favor. They’re playing hard, yes, but they’re also getting the kind of bounces and breaks that are usually the difference in a series between two evenly matched teams.
That continued in Game 4 as Dustin Byfuglien whiffed on an attempt near the blue line and Smith scooped up the loose puck and raced down the ice to score the winner over the shoulder of Hellebuyck with 6:58 left.
Soon the Knights were celebrating Trai Turner Jersey , and Elvis was singing. Viva Las Vegas blared through the arena, and the crowd of 18,697 filed out happily into the warm desert night.
One win away for a team no one dares bet against.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or Aaron Rodgers' eventful offseason included a trip to India to see the spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and a pit stop to watch his girlfriend, race car driver Danica Patrick, at Daytona.
He also purchased a minority stake in the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks.
This week, it's back to the practice field for the two-time NFL MVP.
On-field offseason workouts have started for the Green Bay Packers. They are especially important for a team that has had a lot of change since the end of a 7-9 season.
New general manager Brian Gutekunst cut longtime receiver Jordy Nelson; signed veteran tight end Jimmy Graham; and drafted three receivers all 6-foot-3 or taller. Former Packers assistant Joe Philbin is back as offensive coordinator. The playbook got a thorough review.
"Change can be really good ... any time you're in a situation where you've had the same type of things going on for a number of years, it's nice to change it up in some positions, yeah," Rodgers said at Lambeau Field after practice.
Not to say that the loss of Nelson, a salary cap casualty, didn't hurt. Nelson was a team leader. He was especially close to Rodgers, and fellow receivers Randall Cobb and Davante Adams.
"Honestly, it has nothing to do with this football team. He's a good dude Oren Burks Jersey , and we built up a really good relationship over these last four years," said Adams, who has assumed the role of the Packers' No. 1 receiver.
As for the playbook, Adams calls the changes more a fine-tuning of what's worked in the past.
"It's kind of more of a mentality of how we're attacking people. I love it," Adams said. "As long as we keep to it, keep working at things and clean everything up, it's going to be more dangerous (than) it's been in the past."
At the very least, the Packers hope they are in much better shape than 2017, when the offense struggled with Rodgers sidelined much of the season by a broken collarbone. After several weeks of classroom work, they were eager to take what they've learned out on the field.
"There's a little bit of an 'It's-about-time feel to it,'" Packers coach Mike McCarthy said before practice.
In Philbin, McCarthy brought a reassuring presence back to the coaching staff.
Philbin was offensive coordinator from 2007-11 before leaving to take the Miami Dolphins head coaching job. He was the coordinator when Rodgers took over the starting job in 2008, and when the Packers won the Super Bowl two seasons later.
Rodgers calls Philbin a "fantastic teacher" who commands a room. Philbin said Rodgers is processing the game in his mind even faster now compared to when he last coached him in 2011.
Rodgers also remains a master at preparation. There is no better role model for backups Brett Hundley and DeShone Kizer.
"From a preparation standpoint, he's been excellent, both in the quarterback room and the unit room. He's obviously got an outstanding command of what we're doing Boomer Esiason Jersey , what we want to do," Philbin said.
Off the field, he'll get back to cheering on his girlfriend this weekend. Patrick is driving her final race at the Indy 500 on Sunday.
Rodgers said he watched from pit road for a while when Patrick was at Daytona in February. He's hoping that Patrick can take the checkered flag at the Brickyard.
"She's had a lot of success at Indy over the years," Rodgers said. "I think several top 10s, hoping she goes out with a bang."
NOTES: Asked about the possibility of the Packers adding receiver Dez Bryant, who was cut by the Cowboys, Rodgers said, "Well, we like young receivers. So I'm assuming that's the way they're going to keep going. I don't know why you'd cut Jordy and bring in Dez, but he's a talented player." Besides taking three receivers in the draft, the Packers also have returnees Geronimo Allison and Trevor Davis competing for more targets. "He's going to end up somewhere" Rodgers said about Bryant. "If he ends up here, we'd obviously welcome him with open arms and get him up to speed as quick as possible."
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