“Our depth has been a strength all year,” first-year coach and first-time Stanley Cup winner Bruce Cassidy said. “(Opponents) might have some better players or a better penalty kill or power play or goaltender — now we’re starting to see that our guys are pretty good, too. I do believe it’s been the big strength of our team. I just think it’s been really good for us.”
Cassidy said in the middle of the final he thought Vegas had the best team in hockey “from player 1 through 20.” That’s hard to argue with now, after the Boston Bruins (the team Cassidy coached to six playoff appearances before firing him last year) lost to Florida in the first round following their record-setting regular season.
The Golden Knights eliminated the Panthers in five games, taking advantage of their four strong forward lines and three big defenseman pairings who made life as easy as possible on journeyman goaltender-turned stalwart Adin Hill, himself a prime example of that depth after being a second-round injury replacement. With only 12 forward spots to fill, Phil Kessel — a two-time Stanley Cup winner in Pittsburgh — and trade deadline pickup Teddy Blueger were healthy scratches.
“You have enough good guys here to make five lines,” said Carrier, one of six original Knights players left from their inaugural season in 2017-18 that ended with a loss in the final. “We just roll them. Some nights, some lines will have better nights than others, and they step up their games and it’s great to have. Anyone can score at any point, and everyone plays well.”
Vegas is just the fifth team since the salary cap era started in 2005-06 to have three players score 10 or more goals during a postseason. It’s the only team this year to have four player with eight or more.
But it wasn’t just about scoring. The Golden Knights allowed less than three goals per game and punished opponents with calculated physicality, a benefit of the depth that ensured no one player had to be overextended.
“Everyone’s got to give a little bit,” said defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, now a two-time Cup winner after captaining St. Louis to its first championship in 2019. “We’ve all done that, and we all understand that maybe giving up a couple minutes to each other’s going to keep the energy up throughout the game.”
Marchessault is one of six players from the Golden Knights’ inaugural season team that went to the Stanley Cup Final, losing to the Washington Capitals. Five of the six Marchessault, Reilly Smith, William Karlsson, Brayden McNabb and Shea Theodore were in the starting lineup for Game 5. After Stone received the Cup, these “Golden Misfits” and fellow inaugural-year Knight William Carrier were the next players to skate with the Stanley Cup.
“This probably doesn’t happen without them,” Eichel said of the Vegas originals. “They came in here Year 1 and created something special. And not only a culture, but a belief. I’m so happy for those guys. They’re ultimate hockey players, but they’re some of the best people who’ll ever meet.”
Hill was particularly sharp in the first period, with point blank saves on Anton Lundell and Aleksander Barkov. The latter save on the power play preceded the Golden Knights’ first goal. A turnover by Sam Bennett sprung Stone on a 2-on-1 with Chandler Stephenson. Stone patiently waited until defenseman Brandon Montour slid out of position and stopped in front of the crease. He snapped into the top corner of the net for a shorthanded goal and a 1-0 lead at 11:52.
The Knights made it 2-0 just 1:49 later. Eichel flew into the attacking zone and put a backhand shot off of Bobrovsky, who lost his stick. A scramble ensued in the crease until defenseman Nicolas Hague slid the puck into the net at 13:41.
The referee’s whistle blew before the puck was put over the goal line. However, the NHL confirmed that the goal was allowed under the “culmination of a continuous play” rule, as the puck was in motion towards the goal line when the whistle sounded.
The first period ended with the Knights up 2-0. Florida struck back just 2:15 into the second period. Forward Nick Cousins stripped Knights winger Ivan Barbashev of the puck and passed it back to defenseman Aaron Ekblad, whose shot from the blueline found its way past Hill. It was Ekblad’s second of the playoffs.
But the Knights pulled away later in the second period with two goals just 1:45 apart. Their top line completed a long shift with a pass from Eichel to defenseman Alec Martinez, who fired the puck past Bobrovsky for his second goal of the playoffs.
Martinez is no stranger to Stanley Cup Final Game 5 heroics: His double-overtime goal in 2014 won the Stanley Cup for the Los Angeles Kings.
The championship is the second major title in two years for the city of Las Vegas. In 2022, the WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces won the league crown with a 3-1 series win over the Connecticut Sun.
Vegas led 2-0 at the first intermission, then the rout commenced in the second period as the newly crowned champs scored four times and took a 6-1 lead into the final 20 minutes.
Golden Knights goalie Adin Hill let in two goals but continued to thwart the Panthers with several fine saves in the third.
Jonathan Marchessault won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the best player in the postseason. But he deflected credit for the championship.
The fifth goal for Vegas came when Stone fired in his second on a smart cross-ice pass from Brett Howden with 2:45 remaining before the intermission.
Disaster struck for the Panthers when – with just seconds left in the period – Florida failed to get the puck out of the defensive zone and Smith picked it up at the blue line. He fed Michael Amadio in front of the net and his rebound shot trickled under Bobrovsky’s leg.
In the third period, Ivan Barbashev of the Golden Knights made it 7-1 before Florida’s Sam Reinhart and Sam Bennett scored consolation goals.
Stone capped his hat-trick with an empty net goal as Florida played with six skaters to make it 8-3. Then with just over a minute left in the season, Nicolas Roy made the final score 9-3.
After making the Stanley Cup Final in the franchise’s inaugural season, the Golden Knights returned to the championship series for a second time in their young history.
“That pain was, it was tough. to be honest. It took me almost couple months, a full year, to get over it cause you’re so close but so far,” said Marchessault, who has been with the team all six seasons. He said his approach changed and “look at where we are right now. Our team has been unbelievable since the beginning. And we’re winners.”
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