LAS VEGAS -- To get the true feeling of what it's like to be here for the Stanley Cup final, you have to start at the beginning Monday. And we're not talking the opening faceoff.
There were thousands of people on the plaza outside T-Mobile Arena for a Lil John concert and the jumbtron led the paying customers inside in chants in unison with the folks outside. The place was roaring for pregame warmups and the music was so loud that reporters' laptops in the press box were vibrating as they tried to type.
Then came the real show. A six-minute Game of Thrones set-up where the Knight once again vanquished his visitors as the place roared. The capper was the Knight helmet lowering from the rafters for the players to (finally) burst through it and take the ice to actually start the game.
Vegas sure knows how to put on a show! 🤩 pic.twitter.com/v2uGfgJ7r8
— NHL on NBC (@NHLonNBCSports) May 29, 2018
But wait. There was more. Because Michael Buffer, white tux and all, came out of the ring and hit the ice to announce the starting lineups. He even offered the colors of the players' jerseys, including stripes, and their won-loss record in full Mayweather-Pacquio style. It was hilarious.
"They told us to stay on the line and I'm not going to lie, it was a real treat once we saw who it was," said a smiling Vegas defenseman Nate Schmidt. "I knew. Come on. I was like, 'I'm ready to rumble.' He was spot on."
Best player intros ever? Best player intros ever.
— NHL (@NHL) May 29, 2018
And what a rumble it was. No feeling-out process here in a riveting opening to the final. Just 342 days after the expansion draft that stocked this team with real, live players, the Golden Knights have won a game in the league's ultimate round. Truly hard to fathom.
They got a trio of third-period goals from their fourth line to beat the Washington Capitals, 6-4, as Tomas Nosek took a Shea Theodore pass to snap a 4-4 tie with 10:16 left and added an empty net goal with 2.6 seconds to go. And Nosek got the clincher after blocking Alex Ovechkin's pass in the Knights' zone when the Great Eight, who was mostly invisible in this one, clearly should have been thinking shot with the Caps playing with six skaters.
Hockey in Vegas started about the experience, unlike any in the league, and became about the game as the mother of all expansion teams wrote the best story in sports in a long time. This was yet another chapter.
It's hard to imagine a seven-game series where every game is like this. So many little images and crazy moments.
You had the guys in the white Elvis getups parked right next to the Capitals bench and not a soul in the place was saying to them "Don't Be Cruel".
In his long-awaited Cup final debut, Ovechkin became an Internet meme when he hardly flinched after taking a puck to the jaw in the first period while standing on the Caps bench, just to the right of ducking NBC analyst Pierre McGuire.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) May 29, 2018
Caps tough guy Tom Wilson made his requisite nightly cheap hit, a blinside special of Jonathan Marchessault in the third period that infuriated the Knights because it was so late and will have the league watching video again.
Wilson snapped a 3-3 tie at 1:10 of the third on a fluke goal that Marc-Andre Fleury kicked into the net off his skate, but Vegas tough guy Ryan Reaves got some revenge by forging the night's fourth tie on a goal 91 seconds later. Reaves, who had not scored since being acquired from Pittsburgh in January, now has a two-game goal streak for the first time in three years (even if it took an uncalled cross check against Carlson to get open for the goal).
"I don't think there's time to feel each other out," Reaves said of the craziness in Game 1. "You've got to jump right into it. There's no room for error."
A key note to history: Since the Final went to the best-of-seven format in 1939, the team that has won Game 1 has gone on to capture the Cup 61 of 78 times -- including the last six years. Boston was the last team to rally for a series victory after losing Game 1 of the Final, defeating Vancouver in seven games in 2011 after dropping the first two games.
In addition, the Golden Knights are the first team to score six goals in their first final game since the 1918 Toronto Arenas (now the Leafs) posted a 6-3 win over Vancouver. Yet another notch in the history books for this club.
And the Golden Knights can credit the fourth line of Reaves, Nosek and Pierre-Eduoard Bellemare for their final three goals and a glossy plus-8 in the game.
"Sometimes we can't create a lot of offense but it bounced right for us," Bellemare said. "It's not a crazy recipe. We're just trying to outwork who we're playing against and tonight we got rewarded."
The Golden Knights were roaring from the start as the Caps had just one shot on goal in the first 12 minutes. As a slice of history, the fans and the team were ready.
"The entire town turned out today it seemed," Bellemare said. 'It was so much fun to play in front of the crowd. It's the first game of the final. You're playing at home and you don't want to give it away."
"Especially from the bench. It's a palpable force from the atmosphere," Schmidt said. "It's something you really feed off of. It is Vegas. It always continues to surprise. We have been feeding off them all year."
It was 2-2 after one period and that was the first four-goal opening period in a Cup final opener since the Blackhawks and Flyers lit the lamp four times in 2010.
The wild pace continued. Vegas' Reilly Smith at 3:21 of the second was countered by Washington's Carlson at 8:29, who took a sick feed from T.J. Oshie and had an easy goal into a wide-open net.
Fleury and Brayden Holtby both came into this one red-hot and neither distingished themselves. Holtby, who blanked Tampa Bay in Games 6 and 7 of the Eastern Conference final, saw his shutout streak end at 166 minutes, 42 seconds.
For two teams who had not met since Feb. 4, there was no feeling-out process. Maybe the wild atmosphere contributed to the frenetic pace. If these teams intend to keep up this style, there's no way there will be much practicing done on off days in the series.
When it was over, the crowd roared one final time. Elvis crooned,"Viva Las Vegas" as the Knights celebrated on the ice with their fans.
Quite a scene. Been like this all year. Three wins to go and the story will have the ending no one could have imagined.