Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzTwitter LogoFeatured Columnist IIIJune 14, 20236 Reasons the Vegas Golden Knights Won the Stanley Cup0 of 6
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It’s party time in the Nevada desert.
The Vegas Golden Knights became the state’s first major sports team to win a championship when they defeated the Florida Panthers, 9-3, in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final.
It gave them the series by a 4-1 margin and was a fantastic end to the franchise’s sixth season, following an unsuccessful Cup final appearance in their first year and three more consecutive playoff berths before the first missed opportunity in 2021-22.
The win was the second straight for a Western Conference team after the East had controlled the championship discussion with consecutive wins by the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2019-20 and 2020-21. The Colorado Avalanche ended the Lightning’s run with a six-game victory in their series last spring.
B/R’s hockey staff was on call for Tuesday night’s activities and put together a list of the most significant reasons why the Golden Knights will be scheduling a parade through the city and a banner-raising later this year at T-Mobile Arena.
Take a look at what we came up with and drop a thought of your own in the comments.
Adin Hill Comes from Nowhere1 of 6
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It’s getting difficult to find adjectives for Adin Hill.
The career journeyman was one of five goalies to start at least a game for the Golden Knights during the regular season and started the playoffs as an anonymous second option behind Laurent Brossoit as the team cruised past Winnipeg in the first round.
But a blend of injury and ineffectiveness necessitated Hill’s arrival to start Game 4 in Round 2 against Edmonton and he’s never come close to giving the job back.
The Oilers were dispatched in six games and the Dallas Stars also went six. The subsequent five-game elimination of the Panthers made Hill the first goalie to win 10 or more games in the postseason without participating in the opening round of play.
He allowed just nine goals in the first four games of the final series and made what seemed at the time to be a series-clinching save when he blocked away a shot on a Florida power play midway through the first period that prompted a two-on-one break cashed in for a shorthanded tally moments later by Vegas captain Mark Stone.
It was a fitting finish for a remarkable comeback story and it’s certain to fatten the wallet of the 27-year-old who’s eligible to be an unrestricted free agent in July.
“Without Adin Hill closing the door and keeping his cool,” TNT analyst Anson Carter said, “this could be an entirely different situation in this series.”
Jack Eichel Repays Monster Trade2 of 6
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If you’re a Buffalo Sabres fan, feel free to shield your eyes.
Because there’s a good chance that the Vegas Golden Knights don’t win the Stanley Cup without the man the Sabres picked second overall at the 2015 draft, Jack Eichel.
Eichel’s run with the Sabres went sour when he and the team disagreed over how to treat an injury and Buffalo ultimately traded the three-time All-Star to the Golden Knights with a third-round pick for Alex Tuch, Peyton Krebs, a first-round pick and a second-round pick.
He returned from surgery to play 34 games with his new team last season but was a consistent producer when healthy throughout 2022-23 and took his game to an even higher level once the postseason, his first as a participant after eight years in the league, began.
Eichel had five points in five games against Winnipeg in Round 1, outplayed the only man drafted ahead of him—Connor McDavid—in the team’s second-round bouncing of Edmonton, and had four points in six games as Vegas dusted Dallas in six games to reach the final.
Three assists in Game 5 against Florida wrapped up an eight-point series and he finished atop the league leaderboard, a point up on Marchessault, with 26 points.
“His ability to get pucks to the net came to the forefront, the entries into the offensive zone, the creativity, the hand-eye coordination, it’s all come together,” TNT analyst Keith Jones said. “It’s great to see him play to the level that was expected when he arrived in the NHL.”
The Return of Mark Stone3 of 6
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Mark Stone was an absentee captain for much of the 2022-23 season.
He played just 43 of 82 games and wasn’t available after January 12 while dealing with recurring issues with a balky back that required surgery.
The extended time away allowed him to get back to playing shape and he provided a huge jolt when the playoffs began, returning to help the Golden Knights beat the Winnipeg Jets, Edmonton Oilers and Dallas Stars while producing 15 points in 17 games.
But he’ll never score a bigger goal than Thursday night.
The 31-year-old winger followed a huge save by teammate Adin Hill with a shorthanded two-on-one rush the other way, eventually outwaiting Florida defenseman Brandon Montour and snapping a shot over the glove of Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky.
It was only the first goal of the night but it provided a significant momentum change for Vegas. It also ignited a banner night for the former Ottawa Senator, who completed a hat trick before an emotional Cup hoist shortly after the final horn.
Misfits Catch Fire at the Right Time4 of 6
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Bruce Cassidy knows a good thing when he sees it.
The first-year Vegas coach reached back to the team’s inaugural 2017-18 season on Tuesday night when he put out a starting lineup consisting entirely of players who were on the Golden Knights’ opening-night roster six years ago.
The forward line of Reilly Smith, William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault began the game up front and were backed by Brayden McNabb and Shea Theodore on defense. The sixth and final member of the self-proclaimed “Misfits,” winger William Carrier, drew in soon after to the delight of a title-hungry crowd at the T-Mobile Arena.
And it was hardly just for show.
The charter members of the team have been key contributors throughout the playoffs and specifically in the finals, with Marchessault assisting on a first-period goal by Nicolas Hague to reach eight points in five title-round games. He finished the playoffs with 13 goals and 12 assists in 22 games.
Karlsson (17), Smith (14) and Theodore (12) combined on a second-period goal that made it 4-1 and each reached double-digit points for the postseason as well, with Carrier and McNabb’s complementary contributions bringing the six-pack’s total numbers to 78 points during the team’s 16-6 championship run.
Marchessault became the first undrafted player since some guy name Gretzky to win the Conn Smythe Trophy in 1988.
Depth Everywhere5 of 6
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Ask the players and coaches from the Jets, Oilers, Stars, and now the Panthers.
They’ll all tell you the Golden Knights have elite-level top-end talent with guys like Marchessault, Eichel and Stone, among others.
But the reason why they’re so difficult to contend with and to beat is that those guys are not nearly all there is to offer.
In fact, the guys without the high-profile spotlight had as much to do with the 16-6 run through 22 games as the stars did.
No fewer than nine players arrived to Game 5 having produced at least 10 points through the playoffs and five different players accounted for goals in the title-clinching game.
Marchessault finished the postseason with 13 goals but he was trailed closely by less-heralded teammates William Karlsson (11) and Chandler Stephenson (10). And while Marchessault and Eichel ended with 25 and 26 points, respectively, both Stephenson (20) and Mark Stone (24) were within shouting distance, too.
“Watching this team play, they have no holes,” TNT analyst Wayne Gretzky said.
“They have an offensive line, a checking line, a tough guy line, and their goalie is playing like the best goalie in the league right now. That makes them a very tough team to play against.
“Florida was overwhelmed with the urgency and the attack mentality.”
Bruce Cassidy Gets the Last Laugh6 of 6
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It’s been quite a year and a week for Bruce Cassidy.
Exactly 372 days before the opening faceoff for Game 5, the then-57-year-old was dismissed by the Boston Bruins after a six-year coaching run in which he won 245 games, reached the playoffs six times and represented the Eastern Conference in the 2018-19 Cup final.
So it’s no shock that he was only unemployed eight days before the Golden Knights, anxious to project a new voice following the first playoff miss in team history, snapped him up.
That was exactly one year ago Wednesday.
And all the former first-round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks did in that year with Vegas is win the Pacific Division with 111 points and roll through the Winnipeg Jets, Edmonton Oilers and Dallas Stars with nary a Western Conference issue before finishing the job with Florida.
It’s his first NHL championship as a coach after an early career spent in the ECHL and IHL before he was hired by the Washington Capitals in 2002 and lasted 110 games across parts of two seasons before he was let go in December 2003. He returned to the OHL and AHL following that dismissal before getting the Bruins’ full-time job in 2017.
The hunger that kept him going away from the spotlight is the same hunger that fueled the run in Vegas—and it was evident when he spoke to The Athletic as the series started.
“I don’t have my name on it,” he said. “I don’t want to say it’s everything, but in terms of my career, it is everything to win the Cup. Those (trophies) are all great. They are. They’re accomplishments, but they’re not the Stanley Cup. People talk about Stanley Cup champions, not Jack Adams winners or Presidents’ trophy winners.”