When owner Bill Foley was awarded an NHL expansion team, the Vegas Golden Knights said his goal was to win the Stanley Cup in a sixth season.
The Golden Knights defeated the Matthew Tkachuk-less Florida Panthers 9-3 on Tuesday night to capture the franchise’s first NHL championship.
The Panthers were upset after an upset to reach the finals, but fell to the deep-seeded Golden Knights, who went on to excel in the playoffs and win their title in 22 games.
Captain Mark Stone scored a hat trick, the first in the Stanley Cup Finals since Peter Forsberg of the Colorado Avalanche scored three goals in a 1996 game, and the Golden Knights pulled away in a dominant second period.
Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena allowed Vegas to celebrate on home ice more than five years after the Washington Capitals won the 2018 title.
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“Unbelievable,” Stone said. “The look in my teammates’ eyes when I got (the Stanley Cup) was one of the worst feelings I’ve ever had. I can’t describe the feeling in my stomach right now. It’s everything you can imagine.
A closer look at Game 5:
How the Golden Knights beat the Panthers in Game 5
The Panthers’ power play struggled throughout the finals and it left them trailing in Game 5.
Vegas goalie Adin Hill stopped Alexander Fargo in close, and soon after, Stone took advantage of a turnover to start a 2-on-1 gap with Chandler Stephenson. With the pass picked off, he made a slick move in front of the net and shot the puck past Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky for a short-handed goal.
The Golden Knights capitalized on another odd break less than two minutes in, and defenseman Nicholas Hack fired a loose puck into the net to finish it off.
In the second period, Florida defenseman Aaron Ekplat cut the deficit to 2-1 with a shot off a screen, and then Vegas took over again.
Nine years after scoring the Cup-winning goal for the Los Angeles Kings in the 2014 Finals, defenseman Alec Martinez put Vegas back on top with two goals.
Shea Theodore and William Carlson made it 4-1 over fellow original Golden Knight Reilly Smith, and Stone went 5-1 on a one-timer. Michael Amadio capped the dominant period with his own rebound past Bobrovsky with 1.2 seconds left.
Vegas’ Ivan Barbashev scored in the third period before Florida’s Sam Reinhardt and Sam Bennett scored in the third period to make it 7-1. Stone’s third goal was an empty netter at 14:06 and Nicholas Roy scored the final goal with a minute to play.
Adin Hill shines for the Golden Knights
Hill had to come up with big saves even though the game was lost. He stopped Anton Lundell early, made a save on Fargo and robbed Anthony Duclair with a glove save in the third period.
Hill was one of five goalies the Golden Knights used during the regular season. He entered the game after Laurent Brossoit was injured in the second round and went 11-4 the rest of the playoffs.
Jonathan Marchesault won the Conn Smyth Trophy
Marchessault, left undrafted by the Panthers in the expansion draft, won the playoff MVP award. He finished with 13 goals, tied for the playoff lead, and tied for second overall with 25 points.
“He went on a heck of a run,” said Eichel, who led the playoff scoring in his first postseason appearance. “Kan Smythe deserves a lot. I’m really happy for him. He’s been here since the beginning.”
Stone, as is tradition for a team captain, was the first to raise the Stanley Cup. He handed over to Smith and the remaining original members of the Golden Knights took their turn.
Coach Bruce Cassidy also dropped five of the six original players in the starting lineup.
The Golden Knights franchise’s path to the Stanley Cup
The Golden Knights’ run to the Stanley Cup Finals in their first season in 2017-18 pushed them aggressively. They traded for Stone in 2019, signed Alex Pietrangelo in 2020 and traded for Jack Eichel in 2021. Last season, cap woes and injuries caused the team to miss the playoffs for the first time, prompting the firing of Peter DeBoer and the hiring of a coach. Bruce Cassidy. Hill was signed as a backup goalie in 2022.
They overcame major injuries this season (Stone, multiple goaltenders) and added physical forward Barbashev at the deadline to win the West’s best record. With Stone’s return to the playoffs, Eichel produced healthy and original Golden Knights players (Marchesault, Carlson, Theodore, Smith, etc.) and Vegas swept past Winnipeg, Edmonton, Dallas and Florida.
The previous rapid expansion team to win a Cup after the Original Six era was the 1973-74 Philadelphia Flyers in their seventh season. The Edmonton Oilers, affiliated with the World Hockey Association, won for the fifth consecutive season.
Matthew Tkachuk missed Game 5
Tkachuk, the Panthers’ leading scorer, was unable to dress for the game because of a broken sternum. He absorbed a huge hit in Game 3 and scored the tying goal in Florida’s overtime victory. But he was limited to four shifts in the third period of Game 4. Russian winger Grigory Denisenko made his playoff debut in the fourth row.
Contributed by: Associated Press