Vegas Golden Knights crush Florida Panthers to win Stanley Cup
LAS VEGAS, Nevada – About five hours before Game 5, at the pregame media meal, one of the waiters at the restaurant started telling me about how Las Vegas was ready to party.
He giddily talked about how the nightclubs were getting ready, how he was hoping the Golden Knights would bring the Stanley Cup to the club in that respective casino, and how maybe he’d be able to use his employee status to see it up close.
From the end of Game 4, when the Florida Panthers couldn’t muster back one last comeback on home ice, the Stanley Cup Final shifted from a series to a coronation.
It wasn’t a matter of if the Golden Knights would win their first Stanley Cup, but when and how impressively would they finish the job on home ice in Game 5?
Florida battled its way to the final, reaching further than its roster would have indicated, but limped into the final game with their best player and emotional spark plug Matthew Tkachuk out with an injury that also hampered him in Game 4.
And without Tkachuk the Panthers tried, they really did, before the Vegas buzzsaw sliced them to bits in an emphatic 9-3 victory.
Michael Amadio’s goal with seconds remaining in the second period to make it 6-1 turned the third period into an extended celebration before Mark Stone formally lifted the Stanley Cup after recording a hat trick.
Before the finality of it all, back in the first period, Aleksander Barkov had a power play chance that was turned away by Adin Hill, on the very same shift Stone stole the puck, entered the zone, stalled and finished to give Vegas a 1-0 lead while shorthanded.
It highlighted a perfect penalty kill for Vegas in the series, where they thwarted all 14 Panther power plays.
Less than two minutes later, Jack Eichel was denied on a great first save by Sergei Bobrovski, but Ivan Barbashev and Nicolas Hague bull-rushed the rebound to make it 2-0, which only cranked up the volume in an already blasting arena.
Then Vegas put on a puck possession clinic in the second period. Vegas shook off a goal by Aaron Ekblad that proved to be nothing more than an annoyance, and by the end of 40 minutes, even the most ardent Golden Knights fan was feeling a bit bad for Bobrovsky.
Second period shot attempts. Vegas went full killbot mode. Poor Bob. pic.twitter.com/eSuNDVyHXT— Sean Shapiro (@seanshapiro) June 14, 2023
The third period was a formality, nothing more.
Game 5 was the knockout, but Vegas was always the team to beat this postseason – especially after the Boston Bruins lost – hammering its way through the regular season and the playoffs.
The Golden Knights led the Western Conference with 109 points, easily grounded the Winnipeg Jets, and had a decided edge in series victories against the Edmonton Oilers and Dallas Stars.
This was the first title, while it was also the exclamation mark on how Vegas has gone from an expansion franchise to a bona fide NHL power that will help shape the future of the league.
It’s easy to cherry-pick at the expansion narratives, especially for bitter fans of other teams, but Vegas wasn’t given a Cup-worthy roster. The 2018 team was much like this version of the Panthers, good, but not great, and from the expansion draft only six players were on the ice to taste victory on Tuesday.
Vegas won the Stanley Cup by being bold and leaning into their competitive advantages. Owner Bill Foley spends big on things outside of the salary cap, it’s quickly become known as one of the top places for players and their families, and the lack of state income tax certainly doesn’t hurt.
The Golden Knights had regular season success, but the team was built and prioritized playoff hockey during roster construction. Vegas built a defensive core that’s both big and mobile, plays disciplined, and while it’s made splashy trades, it was always about having four lines that play the same style.
And this summer, style in Vegas will include polish and a silver chalice.