Vegas Golden Knights fans thrilled over dream first NHL season

After a big win against Winnipeg on Wednesday evening, fans of the Vegas Golden Knights believe more than ever that their first-year expansion team is a real contender for the Stanley Cup.

'The Knights have actually brought us together and helped us heal,' fan says as Vegas takes Cup series lead

Vegas Golden Knights fan Ray Labayog is confident his team will make it through the Western Conference championship to the Stanley Cup final. He has a running 'family feud' with cousins in Winnipeg who are cheering for the Jets. (Karen Pauls, CBC News)

After a big win against Winnipeg on Wednesday evening, fans of the Vegas Golden Knights believe more than ever, that their first-year expansion team is a real contender for the Stanley Cup.

"Up 2-1! Next game, we got it again, home turf, The Fortress. This is our home," said elated Vegas fan Ray Labayog, as he hoisted his daughter, Raylene, on his shoulders.

"We're going all the way," fans yelled around him. "Snow melts in the desert," another one added.

Dressed in armour and glitter, they danced and partied both inside and outside the arena, where giant screens showed the game.

The arena was loud and proud, full of fans waving white towels, singing and chanting — sometimes over the sound of "go Jets go."

The Golden Knights lead the best-of-seven NHL Western Conference final 2-1. Game 4 will be another home game in T-Mobile Arena on Friday. The series returns to the Winnipeg WhiteOut on Sunday.

Winnipegger Hilda Anderson-Pyrz (front, second from left) and her friends are confident the Jets will win Game 4 in Vegas on Friday. (Karen Pauls, CBC News)

There were hundreds of people in Jets jerseys at the game, too. Sometimes chanting "go Jets go" before the home crowd drowned them out.

While disappointed to see their team fall behind for the first time in these playoffs, they remained optimistic.

"I'm sad, but I know they played hard and played awesome game, and they'll win next time," Winnipegger Hilda Anderson-Pyrz said.

"It was a good game. They fell behind there and couldn't catch up, but they played well. It's a long series. We got time. We'll even it up on Friday, come back home and take the lead," said Cory Normand, also of Winnipeg.

"I'm not worried at all," added his son, Landon.

The series winner advances to the Stanley Cup to face the winner of the Eastern Conference final between the Washington Capitals and Tampa Bay Lightning. The Caps lead that series 2-1.

The NHL's newest franchise has already done what no expansion team has done before, exceeding nearly everyone's expectations.

Associated Press sports reporter Willie Ramirez says the Golden Knights have 'exceeded expectations' for a first-year expansion team. (Karen Pauls, CBC News)

"This has gone beyond, 'Will Vegas be a a good hockey team?' This is gone from, 'Will hockey work in Las Vegas?' to where we're at now," said Associated Press sports reporter Willie Ramirez earlier in the day as he watched the team's pre-game skate.

"What they've done is obviously remarkable because at the very beginning, it was all about let's just try to compete and build for the future. … and now you have these golden misfits if you will that have come together to prove that they belong in this league.

"It doesn't matter who or what line they're on this team has come together to really just build this chemistry and be a threat no matter who's on the ice at any given time," Ramirez said.

Community support for 'Golden Misfits'

And the community is embracing this team of so-called golden misfits.

Their season opener came days after the mass shooting at a music festival last October that left 58 people dead.

Instead of a flashy launch, the players got involved in the community, fundraising and honouring the victims and the heroes involved in the first response. Along the way, they have won over the hearts of people who had never been hockey fans before.

"We're known for partying and being a huge city, and people forget, we live here," said Austi Martinez, a new fan.

"There's a community here and especially after Route 91, there was a horrible wake-up call, but the Knights have actually brought us together and helped us heal."

Andrew Huff is a former Vancouverite who has embraced the Golden Knights. He has no allegiance to the Jets, the only Canadian team left in the playoffs.

"They can go fly away," he said with a laugh.

And while he can't quite fathom how the Golden Knights are doing it, he's thrilled.

"Generally expansion teams are, for lack of a better word, horrible. ... So it's incredible absolutely incredible," he said.

Vegas cabbie Adam Pedersen says a Stanley Cup win for Vegas would be great for the city's morale. (Karen Pauls, CBC News)

In Vegas, like most places, ask a cabbie for his opinion and you'll get the pulse of the community.

Adam Pedersen gets choked up when asked what it would mean for the city if the Golden Knights could go all the way and win the Stanley Cup.

"It would be huge for this city, for morale," he said.

"For them to win the Stanley Cup would just bring so much joy to so many people I think. I think the lights would be extra bright."