LAS VEGAS (AP) — The Golden Knights delivered their city a true Vegas-style party from dazzling passes to Mark Stone’s hat trick to all-out goal celebrations, capturing the young organization’s first Stanley Cup with a 9-3 romp over the beaten up and exhausted Florida Panthers on Tuesday night.
Coach Bruce Cassidy, in a nod to the Knights’ brief history, started five of the original Vegas players known as the Misfits and put the sixth on the second shift. Cassidy sounded confident the day before the game that his team would play well, and it certainly did, blowing open a one-goal game in the second period to lead 6-1.
Vegas closed out the series in five games to win the cup before a delirious franchise-record crowd of 19,058 at T-Mobile Arena that drowned out the pregame introductions of forward Jonathan Marchessault and goalie Adin Hill and cheered all the way through the final buzzer.
Stone’s hat trick — with the third into an empty net with 5:54 left — was the first in a Stanley Cup Final since Colorado’s Peter Forsberg in 1996, also against the Panthers.
The Knights got the rest of their scoring from Nic Hague, Alec Martinez, Reilly Smith, Michael Amadio, Ivan Barbashev and Nicolas Roy. Martinez’s goal in the second period came nine years to the day after he delivered the double-overtime goal in Game 5 to give the Los Angeles Kings’ the cup.
Hill came through with another strong performance that has quickly made him a Knights fan favorite, even earning “MVP! MVP!” chants in the third period. Jack Eichel, the eight-year pro playing in his first postseason, had three assists.
Aaron Ekblad, Sam Reinhart and Sam Bennett scored for Florida, and Sergei Bobrovsky was overwhelmed in another tough performance against Vegas after carrying Florida to the final. Missing from the lineup was Matthew Tkachuk, the king of game-winning shots during the playoffs but never the same after crushing blow to his shoulder by Vegas’ Keegan Kolesar in Game 3.
The Knights have set the standard of what an expansion franchise should look like, making the Cup Final in their first season and the playoffs in every year but one. Six players remain from the initial 2017-18 team that lost in five games to the Washington Capitals in the final.
Those players watched the Capitals skate with the Stanley Cup that night, and then they got the chance to do the same Tuesday to fulfill owner Bill Foley’s quest to win the championship in the sixth year.
By creating such a lofty standard at the outset, the Knights played with high expectations, but repeatedly fell short despite four runs to at least the NHL semifinals – until Game 5 against the Panthers.
This is Las Vegas’ second pro title in nine months – the Aces claimed the WNBA championship in September – and continues the stunning growth of a sports market that was limited largely to prize fights, UNLV athletics, NASCAR and lots of golf before the Golden Knights took the city by storm. The Raiders began playing here in 2020, the Oakland Athletics appear headed to the desert, Las Vegas will host a Formula One race this year and the Super Bowl will be at Allegiant Stadium in February.
As for the Knights, their connection to Las Vegas was sealed ever since the shooting Oct. 1, 2017 that took 60 lives. They played an integral role in helping the city heal, reaching out to the community off the ice and winning big on it.
Beating Florida justified the many moves Knights management made to remake the roster over the years. Stone, Eichel and Alex Pietrangelo are the most notable players Vegas has acquired to get to this moment.
And Cassidy, hired a week after getting fired by the Boston Bruins last year, proved to be the coach to get them there, seemingly pushing all the right buttons in helping Vegas become the Western Conference’s top seed and then the NHL’s champion.
The Knights also won the title with an unlikely goalie in Hill, who was injured when the playoffs began. Laurent Brossoit was the starter until going out with an injury in Game 3 of the second-round series against the Edmonton Oilers, and then Hill got his chance.