Golden Knights defenseman Deryk Engelland spoke at a ceremony honoring emergency workers who responded to the mass shooting in Las Vegas in October.
LAS VEGAS — To the usual assortment of tourists and hawkers on the Strip’s pulsing fantasy land of fountains, hotels, casinos, clubs and restaurants came thousands of hockey fans on Thursday night, heading to the T-Mobile Arena to see the hometown Golden Knights maybe, just maybe, improbably, win the Stanley Cup.
They didn’t. The Washington Capitals won Game 5 to claim their first N.H.L. title after 43 seasons.
Yet in many ways, the Golden Knights’ inaugural season will be remembered as much for how it began as for how it ended.
On Oct. 1, just days before the start of the regular season, Stephen Paddock opened fire from his 32nd-floor hotel room here, killing 58 people and injuring hundreds who were attending a country music festival across the street. The mass shooting, one of the deadliest in American history, took place just a mile south of the arena.
Few teams, if any, have come into being under such dire circumstances. In the shooting’s aftermath, the team’s players fanned out across the community, thanking police officers, giving blood and donating tens of thousands of dollars to help victims, their families and emergency medical workers. Their response endeared them to the city’s stunned and grieving residents.
Then, uncharacteristically for an expansion team in any sport, it started winning. A lot. That success helped forge tighter bonds between fans and players, city and club. Up and down the Strip, the Golden Knights’ logo popped up everywhere. An enormous jersey was even draped over the replica of the Statue of Liberty in front of the New York-New York hotel.
But as fans arrived on Thursday night for what turned out to be their team’s final game of the season, many said all the winning was beside the point.
“That October deal was huge,” said Rob Norman, a season-ticket holder who splits his time between Alaska and Las Vegas, and attended about half of the team’s home games. “There was something going on. The winning helped. But even if they didn’t win, they’d have been embraced by the city.”
The names of the 58 people killed in the shooting during a country music festival were projected onto the ice in October before the Golden Knights’ first home game in franchise history.
When the N.H.L. voted to put an expansion team in Las Vegas in 2016, hockey purists groaned. The league has had mixed success with Sun Belt teams. Many have struggled financially. Las Vegas is also a town of transplants who, if they like hockey, tend to root for their hometown teams.
Still, Las Vegas had never had a big-league sports team, and many people welcomed the idea.
Residents like Cady Olsen, who attended Thursday’s game with her friends Drew Jerger and Nathan Montgomery, said the players fit the psyche of Las Vegas. They are castoffs, she said, which is also how many residents see themselves.
Olsen, who moved to Las Vegas 15 years ago and who lost a friend in the shooting, said she was impressed that the players dedicated the season to the city at their home opener. “When athletes can put the money and fame aside, it says something,” she said.
The team has kept the memory of last October alive, a kind of perpetual rallying cry. Before Thursday’s game, the team showed a video with images of emergency medical workers and fans in “Vegas Strong” jerseys. Undersheriff Kevin McMahill, the second-in-command of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, was honored as the hero of the day at the game.
“We did our best to get it right, to be respectful and honor the people and help them grieve and heal and persevere,” the Golden Knights’ general manager, George McPhee, said before the Stanley Cup series began in late May. “It’s unfortunate that thing happened, and sometimes beautiful things follow something like that, and the way that this community came together and these people helped each other really was a beautiful thing to witness and experience.”
Though not a hockey writer, I had an unusual interest in the Golden Knights this season. A couple of days before the shooting, I arrived in Las Vegas to report on the launch of the team and what it might portend for the N.F.L.’s Raiders, who are due to arrive in 2020.
Just hours before the shooting, I was at T-Mobile Arena interviewing hockey fans before the final preseason game.
The mood was giddy. The fans did not know what to expect of the Knights, and some of them barely knew the players’ names. But hope was in the air.
Not long after I fell asleep that night, I received a call at my hotel from an editor, who told me about the shooting and asked me to find survivors. I drove back to the Strip.
Near the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign, I interviewed several survivors, some shellshocked and barely able to speak, others who could not stop talking.
“It’ll be my last trip,” said Jennifer Floyd, who was near the right side of the stage when the gunfire began raining down. “I’m done with Vegas.”
Some survivors of the shooting may never return. But Las Vegas has a preternatural ability to regenerate itself. Every few days, a new convention comes to town and another wave of tourists arrive. There are now few physical reminders that a shooting took place.
A few hours before the game on Thursday, I walked around the scene of the shooting. The concert stage and other structures were gone and a green tarp covered the chain link fences. At the hotel across the street, the windows the shooter blew out were replaced. The signs, flowers and candles at the memorials in the medians of Las Vegas Boulevard were gone.
Only at one stretch of fence near the concert location was there any reminder of the shooting. Some shriveled flowers and ribbons blew in the wind. Someone had left a piece of paper with a message: “Toronto Canada prays for Vegas. Condolences for your loss.” Another note read: “Mourn the lost, hug the survivors, never stop dancing.”
As I stood there, dozens of people walked past without stopping, heading to the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign, where showgirls and entertainers dressed as Elvis posed for photos.
Given the city’s raison d’être as a perpetual dreamscape, it wasn’t surprising that most visitors would be more consumed with meeting a fictional Elvis than considering the scene of a deadly attack.
But to the city’s residents, the team and the events that night are forever intertwined. And while the season ended in disappointment on Thursday, fans like Brad Creel, who has lived in Las Vegas for 30 years and attended almost every home game, said the team helped them look ahead, not back.
“The team wrapped themselves around the town,” he said, “and the town wrapped themselves around the team.”