VIVA LAS VEGAS!
|VANCOUVER - The Las Vegas Sharks entered the XHL only four years ago as they began life in 2011 as the Seattle Spoonmen. After a disappointing inaugural campaign, they began life anew for the 2013 season in Las Vegas as the Sharks.
After a rough first season on The Strip, the Sharks finally made the playoffs in 2014 and went on to shock the league by advancing to the conference finals. And while some may have discounted the Sharks as a bit of a fluke, any possible talk of that was officially erased during the 2015 XHL Cup Playoffs.
First the Sharks won a Game 7 in Los Angeles in the first round. Then they defeated the top seed in the National Conference, the San Diego Toros. They proceeded to win Game 7 of the National Conference Finals in New York over the Empire, and then faced with yet another road Game 7, this time in Vancouver, the Sharks proved their mettle once again.
Teddy Purcell capped off a Conn Smythe Trophy-winning playoff run with a goal to give him 20 in the playoffs along with 40 assists, and Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers stopped 34 of 35 shots to secure the win as the Las Vegas Sharks won their first XHL Cup in franchise history with a 3-1 Game 7 victory over the Canucks in Vancouver.
"This is just an incredible feeling," said Boyes. "For those of us who have been here since the first year, we knew that we had the potential to be great. We all worked together as a team, everyone contributed, and this feeling is incredible right now."
Las Vegas became the first team to win three Game Sevens on the road en route to the Cup, and they became the fastest non-inaugural franchise to win a championship in league history. They also became the first road team to win a game in a series that had seen the home side go 6-0 going into that game six - a fact not lost on the Canucks.
"We didn't get it done, simple as that." said Henrik Sedin. "All you can ever ask for is a Game 7 on home ice. We had already won twice at home this year in Game 7, everyone here thought we could do it again. We failed, and it's a really hard feeling to deal with."
Canucks fans entered the evening with hope and optimism that the city of Vancouver, and the Canucks franchise, would win their first XHL Cup. And the crowd noise all throughout the game was a result of the hope those fans felt. But by the end of the evening, the only feelings prevalent throughout Rogers Arena were those of disappointment and frustration as Sharks' captain Brad Boyes was presented with the XHL Cup shortly after the final whistle.
Both teams were fired up in the first period, and both offenses came ready to play as each team registered 17 shots on goal in the first. But only one goal was produced between the teams, and it would take until there was just 2:35 remaining as Purcell, the Conn Smythe winner, put home his league-leading 20th goal of the playoffs to make it 1-0 Sharks after one.
"I can't put into words what it felt to be able to help the team like this," said Purcell. "I could never have won this award without my teammates helping me all playoffs long. We all deserve to share in this, along with all our great fans back in Las Vegas."
Vancouver continued to struggle in generating any offense whatsoever in the second as the game remained 1-0 through most of the second period. And then at 8:10, Colby Armstrong put home his sixth of the playoffs to give the Sharks an important 2-0 lead.
The Canucks would finally break through at 13:53 of the second as Daniel Sedin took a pass from his brother Henrik to cap off an excellent playoff performance of his own with his 16th of the playoffs as the crowd erupted with Vancouver back within a goal at the end of the second.
But the chances for Vancouver in the third would be few and far between. Despite six power play opportunities, the Canucks only managed four total shots on those six chances, and that, and a stout performance by Sharks' goaltender Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers, would end up being their undoing.
Vancouver held a narrow 10-9 shots edge on the Sharks in the third, but they would fail to capitalize, and then after pulling goalie Evgeni Nabokov with a minute left, they wouldn't even get a shot off before Las Vegas ended it with 25 seconds left as Adam Pineault put his first of the playoffs into the empty net to secure victory for the Sharks.
Back in Las Vegas, parties erupted all over a city that is well-versed in having a good time. Fans flooded the Strip in celebration, bartenders poured complimentary drinks for patrons and those in casino pools did celebratory cannonballs to celebrate the first professional sports championship in the history of the city.
The Sharks will return home to Nevada for their 2015 XHL Cup Championship parade down the Strip on Friday night (it will be held during the evening to avoid the brutal heat of Las Vegas in the afternoon), with GM Anthony Furia and head coach John Tortorella leading the way.
And as the Sharks take the Strip with thousands of their adoring fans cheering, they can soak in the feeling and relish the fact that for the next year, they are at the top of the XHL hill. Next year they will get a gold star on their jerseys as well to signify their 2015 conquest, and they will get to open up the 2016 XHL season in the first game of the year.
To think that all of this comes from a team that has only existed four seasons, including just three in Las Vegas. And from a team that has never even had home ice in a playoff series. Or won a division title.
But none of that matters now. All that matters is that the Las Vegas Sharks are now officially at the summit of the XHL.
2015 XHL AWARDS
Coming soon - All times Eastern
2015 XHL Draft - Date TBD - 7 PM - NBCSN, Sportsnet