LAS VEGAS — Gerard (Turk) Gallant was relaxing on a rare day off from the pressure and demands of a National Hockey League head coach on Monday.
The Gallant-coached Vegas Golden Knights defeated the Winnipeg Jets 2-1 on Sunday to win the best-of-seven Western Conference final in five games. Next stop for the Golden Knights, in what has truly been a storybook inaugural season, is the Stanley Cup final.
“Obviously, it was an outstanding year,” said Gallant in a phone interview with the Journal Pioneer on Monday afternoon. “In the playoffs, we’ve gone into every series feeling good about our team and confident. The more games we play, the more confident we get.
“It’s business as usual. I’m happy that we are playing well and winning, but it’s not like we are overly excited. It just seems like it is one series at a time. You win that series, you get ready for the next one, you go to work and get our players ready to go. That’s all it’s been.
“It’s not like it’s a ‘we’ve been lucky to win every series’ type of thing. We think we are as good as anybody, and if we play well we have a chance to win.”
The Golden Knights, who won the Pacific Division’s regular-season title on the strength of a 51-24-7 (won-lost-overtime losses) record, eliminated the Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks and Winnipeg Jets in entertaining and fast-paced series en route to the final.
“It’s been good hockey, the team has played well and obviously (goaltender Marc-Andre) Fleury has been unbelievable, and that’s been a big key for us,” assessed Gallant, who praised the team’s consistency.
For example, after falling behind the Jets early in a Game 1 loss, the Golden Knights never trailed in the next four games.
“You have to have a healthy hockey team, and I think the biggest thing is we’ve won our series in four games, six games and five games,” explained Gallant, 54. “We had a lot of rest between series to heal up some minor injuries, and our team is fresh.
“There’s not too often you can say going into the Stanley Cup Final that your team is pretty fresh, and has very few minor injuries. Having time between series to get ready for the next one is a big part of having a chance to win.”
Vegas will open the best-of-seven Stanley Cup Final against the Eastern Conference champion on Monday, May 28. If the Tampa Bay Lightning defeats the Washington Capitals in Game 7 on Wednesday night, the Golden Knights will open on the road. However, if the Capitals win, Game 1 will be played in Las Vegas.
“We know we will be facing a real good team,” said Gallant. “Winnipeg was a top, top team, and obviously when you talk about the L.A. Kings and San Jose Sharks they are great teams.
“We were never intimidated in any of those series, and we went about our business. We won the Pacific Division, and knew we had a good hockey team. It is just go play the game, and see where we go.”
Regardless of where the puck drops Monday night, Gallant will be realizing a childhood dream — the opportunity to win the Stanley Cup.
“As a kid from Summerside that was my goal as a young boy,” said Gallant. “I love hockey and it’s always been a big, big, big part of my life.
“The ultimate goal is to win a Stanley Cup. This is the closest I’ve been to it, and we’ll see what happens. It’s been a lot of fun.”
Did You Know
Gerard (Turk) Gallant of Summerside will be participating in his first Stanley Cup Final.
Gallant is the head coach of the Vegas Golden Knights, who will face the winner of the Tampa Bay Lightning-Washington Capitals’ series for the National Hockey League championship.
Gallant came close on two different occasions of reaching the Stanley Cup Final as a player with the Detroit Red Wings. The Edmonton Oilers defeated the Red Wings to win the Campbell Conference (now Western Conference) title in 1987 and 1988.
Gallant was an assistant coach with the Montreal Canadiens, who lost the 2014 Eastern Conference final to the New York Rangers in six games.