Silver & Golden: Knights secure first Stanley Cup

  • Greg Wyshynski, ESPNJun 13, 2023, 10:53 PM ET

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      Greg Wyshynski is ESPN’s senior NHL writer.

LAS VEGAS — When the Vegas Golden Knights entered the NHL in 2017 as an expansion team, owner Bill Foley said his plan was to win the Stanley Cup in six years.

That prophecy was emphatically fulfilled Tuesday night in Las Vegas, as the Golden Knights blew out the Florida Panthers 9-3 in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final to win their series 4-1 and capture the first championship in franchise history.

Captain Mark Stone authored a hat trick, and center Jack Eichel had three assists in the win. Goaltender Adin Hill outplayed Florida’s Sergei Bobrovsky, making 32 saves.

“I can’t even describe the feelings in my stomach right now,” said Stone, who received the Stanley Cup from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. “It’s everything you can imagine. The grind of an 82-game season, four playoff rounds, you grind and you grind and you grind, and at the end of the day, you’re the last team standing. It’s incredible.”

Forward Jonathan Marchessault was named the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as postseason MVP.

Marchessault is one of six players from the Golden Knights’ inaugural season who 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 first-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 you’ll ever meet.”

The Panthers, who were also seeking their first Stanley Cup title, saw their remarkable playoff run from lowest seed in the Eastern Conference to the final round end in frustrating defeat. Florida was without a key contributor in Game 5: star forward Matthew Tkachuk, who led the Panthers this postseason in goals (11) and points (24).

He was limited in their Game 4 loss and wasn’t healthy enough to play in Game 5 — a critical blow to the Panthers’ chances to rally in the series.

Coach Paul Maurice revealed that Tkachuk had a fractured sternum that he suffered in Game 3.

“He couldn’t dress himself for [Game 4],” Maurice said. “Somebody helped him get his gear on. Somebody helped him tie his skates.”

Without Tkachuk to spark the Panthers, the Golden Knights rolled from the moment the puck dropped.

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 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 told ESPN that the goal was allowed under the “culmination of a continuous play” rule, as the puck was in motion toward 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.

Smith scored his fourth goal of the playoffs at 12:13 to make it 4-1, and the onslaught was on. Stone scored again, on a stoppable shot for Bobrovsky, at 17:15. Then the real dagger: Michael Amadio scored with 1.2 seconds remaining in the period on a delayed penalty against Florida to extend the lead to 6-1.

The Knights made it 7-1 with 11:38 left in the third period, as another Eichel backhand shot rebounded off Bobrovsky and Barbashev put it home.

Florida winger Sam Reinhart scored a goal 25 seconds later to make it 7-2. Another Panthers goal by Bennett made it 7-3, but it was too little, too late. Stone completed his hat trick with an empty net goal with 5:54 left in the game to make it 8-3.

It was the first hat trick in the Stanley Cup Final since Colorado Avalanche star Peter Forsberg had one in Game 2 in 1996 — against the Panthers.

Nicolas Roy added a late goal for the 9-3 win.

The six-goal margin of victory was the largest of the series, surpassing Vegas’ 7-2 win in Game 2. It’s also the second largest ever in a Stanley Cup Final-clinching game, topped only by the Pittsburgh Penguins winning by eight goals in 1991.

The Knights celebrated at the final buzzer as the gold-clad Vegas fans cheered wildly. Over time they have turned this new NHL market into one of the league’s hottest fan bases.

A few fans raised signs that read: “We’ve Been Waiting 6 Long Years For This.”

After the game, Foley revealed why he felt the Knights could win in six years back when the expansion team started.

“I was being told by everyone that we’re worthless,” Foley said. “We’re no good. Our team sucks. The players are no good. They’re nobody. You’re going to lose every game. I got a little irritated. So I said, ‘Playoffs in three, Cup in six.'”

The Knights made the playoffs in their first season. And they won the Cup in six.