Golden Knights Blast Panthers 9–3 to Win First Stanley Cup

Golden Knights Blast Panthers 9–3 to Win First Stanley Cup
Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Adin Hill skates with the Stanley Cup after the Knights defeated the Florida Panthers 9-3 in Game 5 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Finals in Las Vegas on June 13, 2023. (Abbie Parr/AP Photo)
The Canadian Press

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. The nine goals tied the record for the most in a Cup final.

“Vegas, you certainly know how to throw a party,“ NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman told the crowd. ”What’s going on inside this arena and outside is incredible and a testament to what a great hockey market this is.

“What has happened here has been simply incredible. Not only is Vegas a hockey town, it’s a championship town.”

Vegas closed out the best-of-seven 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 pre-game introductions of forward Jonathan Marchessault and goalie Adin Hill and cheered all the way through the final buzzer.

Marchessault, who ended the post-season with a 10-game points streak, received the Conn Smythe Trophy for playoff MVP.

“I couldn’t be more proud of our team, our organization,“ Marchessault said. ”Everybody stepped up at different times and that’s why we’re winners.”

Vegas Golden Knights right wing Jonathan Marchessault hold the Conn Smythe Trophy after the Knights defeated the Florida Panthers in Game 5 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Finals against the Florida Panthers in Las Vegas on June 13, 2023. (Abbie Parr/AP Photo)
Vegas Golden Knights right wing Jonathan Marchessault hold the Conn Smythe Trophy after the Knights defeated the Florida Panthers in Game 5 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Finals against the Florida Panthers in Las Vegas on June 13, 2023. (Abbie Parr/AP Photo)

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 dayafter 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 favourite, even earning “MVP! MVP!” chants in the third period. Jack Eichel, the eight-year pro playing in his first post-season, had three assists.

“This is what everyone dreams of,“ Eichel said. ”You come to an organization like this and the expectation is to win this thing. It’s a special place to play. I can’t give everyone enough credit for putting us in this position.

“They call ’em the Misfits, those are the guys, they built this. They built this culture. So proud to be a part of it.”

As captain, Stone was the first to lift the Cup before handing it over to the six Misfits to each get their turn skating with the trophy before handing it down the line to the rest of the team.

“Unbelievable,” Stone said. “The look in my teammates eyes when I got it, one of the craziest feelings I’ve ever had. I can’t even describe the feelings in my stomach right now. It’s everything you can imagine. The grind of an 82-game season, four playoff rounds. You grind and you grind and you grind.”

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 a 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 2017–2018 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.

“We waited a long time for that moment to come back.” Marchessault said. “We wanted to make sure we cash in this time.”

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 Knightstook 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.

“He came in, brought an intensity to our locker room that maybe we needed,” Stone said. “He wanted to win as badly as anybody else in that locker room.”

Cassidy seemingly pushing all the right buttons in helping Vegas become the Western Conference’s top seed and then the NHL’s champion.

“It’s a great story—very, very grateful to get another opportunity,“ Cassidy said. ”I’m just here to do my job and it worked out well.”

The Knights also won 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.

“You dream about it every day growing up as a child.” Hill said. “To be here with this group of guys, in this city, in this building, is a dream come true.”