By MARK ANDERSON (AP Sports Writer)
LAS VEGAS (AP) — Golden Knights games have always been as flashy as any show on the Las Vegas Strip, the sword-fighting mascot taking the ice before what seems like a legion of players marching out through the mirrored entrance into the roar of the crowd.
If this team was ever going to win the Stanley Cup, it was going to do it with Vegas flash.
The Knights delivered just that from dazzling passes to Mark Stone’s hat trick to all-out goal celebrations, capturing the young organization’s first title 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.”
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.
Marchessault, who ended the postseason 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.”
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 with 31 saves 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.
“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.”
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.”
Aaron Ekblad, Sam Reinhart and Sam Bennett scored for Florida, and Sergei Bobrovsky was overwhelmed in another tough performance against Vegas — allowing eight goals on 30 shots on goal — after carrying Florida to the final. Missing from the lineup was star forward Matthew Tkachuk after playing injured in Game 4.
“It was a privilege for me to play with them and fight with them,” Bobrovsky said. “It’s definitely tough to lose that way and end the season that way. But we have done a fantastic job and I want to stick to that.”
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.
“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 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.
“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.”
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