Sports are a black and white business. Every night, you either win or you lose, there is no in-between.
And while that’s 100% true, and will always be in an individual game, an NHL season isn’t as binary.
An NHL season consists of 82 games to determine which 16 teams get a chance to continue competing in a completely separate season to select a champion. 52% of teams in the league are deemed good enough while the other 48% are eliminated, and it’s determined by the collection of results over six months of play.
No one loss ends a team’s season, and no one win earns a team a place in the playoffs. And thus, every team loses… a lot. Even the best of the best lose, all the time.
This isn’t news to anyone who follows sports, but to Golden Knights fans it can often get lost in the mix. Not because Vegas fans are new to hockey or because they are naive to the way the NHL works, but because of they don’t have the experience of it happening with this particular team.
Deep down, every person who roots for the Golden Knights knows there will never be another season quite like that the first one, but until there’s another example, that season stands as the shining example of what greatness looks like.
In that season the Golden Knights started out with three straight wins and won seven of their first eight. They never lost more than three in a row and only failed to earn points in three straight games twice. They won 29 of their 41 home games and fell at home in consecutive games just three times. They had a playoff berth sewn up by January, clinched in mid March, and no one really challenged them for the Pacific Division crown once they reached first place for good in December.
The season was perfect.
So perfect that there was a 93-minute documentary film created to celebrate it.
Comparing any season to that one is ridiculous because that season was just that, ridiculous.
But expecting the Golden Knights fan base to do anything else is just as ridiculous. The year they were great in the regular season, they went to the Stanley Cup Final. The year they were okay in the regular season, they were eliminated in the first round. That’s the way it feels like it must happen because that’s the only way it’s happened in the past.
Anyone can point to the 2018-19 Blues or the 2017-18 Capitals or really any Stanley Cup winning team and show how the consistent regular season success is not a pre-requisite to post season triumph, but none of it applies to the Golden Knights until they do it themselves.
The Golden Knights aren’t like anyone else, never have been, and in the eyes of their fans, never will be. So, comparing their experiences to anyone else’s simply doesn’t cut it.
That’s why when there are losing streaks, this fan base gets more nervous than most. It didn’t happen the first season, which means it doesn’t have to be happening now.
It’s why when the head coach says “we played well, we just didn’t win” after four straight losses, the fan base grows frustrated. Because in the first season if they played well, they won.
And that’s why there’s panic after losses, and an overwhelming sense of calm after a big win like last night.
Every fan base of every team does it. The Capitals could do no wrong in the regular season but their fans could never believe in them until they beat the Penguins. For Kings fans the regular season doesn’t mean much because they got in as an 8-seed once and ended up hoisting the Cup. Maple Leafs fans panic every time their team gives up a goal because all they’ve experienced recently is failure and they are just waiting for it to happen again.
Perception is all based on experience.
For Golden Knights fans, the experience of winning means doing it like they did in 2017-18. Getting to the top was like taking an elevator not a roller coaster.
If the elevator drops, they panic.
It’s going to take a bunch of drops before it becomes normal, even if the people who have ridden it hundreds of times (players, coaches, front office, other fans) tell them it’s okay, it’s not okay until they’ve experienced it themselves.
Right now, Vegas is experiencing it, and that’s okay too.