Coach Bruce Cassidy said following Game 1 and again Sunday that the opening salvo of the Stanley Cup Final was not his team’s best. Yet the Golden Knights found a way to win, moving closer to the ultimate goal, which has remained unfinished since they faltered against the Washington Capitals in the 2018 Cup Final.
A different team, a different situation, but the lessons remain.
The Golden Knights won Game 1 in 2018 but didn’t win again.
In every word and every tone from Cassidy through original Misfit Jonathan Marchessault, the VGK were on guard for that kind of a letdown. It would be the same kind of letdown the Golden Knights flirted with in the Western Conference Final when a 3-0 series lead quickly became a 3-2 series with a pressure-packed Game 6.
“We were there the first time, and it didn’t work out,” said Marchessault. “I think we’re a little bit more humble about the situation now, and we know that it doesn’t mean anything when it’s one game in the series. So for us, the focus is on the next game, and that’s how we approach every game.”
There is a different feeling this time. There isn’t joy or momentum in achieving this level but a quiet workmanlike determination to finish the job. The Golden Knights didn’t waver or buckle in Game 1. They kept pushing even as Florida goalie Sergei Bobrovsky made a string of difficult saves.
They kept pushing as Jack Eichel raced around the offensive zone and set up Zach Whitecloud midway through the third period, and Mark Stone swatted Mathew Tkachuk‘s clearing pass out of the air and quickly snapped it past Bobrovsky. And they kept pushing until Reilly Smith ended any drama with an empty netter.
“Every year when you lose that last game, you take a lesson out of it,” said defenseman Alex Pietrangelo. “So I’m sure all the boys that were here the first year — we know that the first game doesn’t mean (anything). You’re not winning it right off the bat. You’ve got to keep pushing.”
Like the legend of the Misfits, which permeates the DNA of the Vegas Golden Knights franchise, so too do the mistakes of the past. And the villains. The Golden Knights have given away series they should have won. The 2019 Round One vs. the San Jose Sharks springs to mind as the Golden Knights allowed four goals on one five-minute major (a dubious call) in the third period to lose in overtime.
The missed opportunity against the underpowered Montreal Canadiens in 2021, a team that relied on the guts of a hobbled Shea Weber and impenetrable goalie Carey Price but had little else that was championship quality.
This time, the Golden Knights haven’t let the smiles linger. They did for a moment too long against Dallas, but that doesn’t appear to be a mistake they will repeat. They have the Florida Panthers in an early deficit, they hung four goals on the playoff’s hottest goalie, and they got a remarkable highlight reel save from their own goalie, Adin Hill.
They rolled a seven out of the shoot in Game 1. But as any Vegas resident knows, one win only means one payout, and the Golden Knights have little more in mind this time. Florida cut through the three best teams in the Eastern Conference, but they could not match the depth nor could Matthew Tkachuk and Sam Bennett get to the VGK net with any consistency.
But it was just Game 1. Analysts like me will tell you the potential meanings and trends established in Game 1, but if you ask the Golden Knights … it doesn’t mean anything except they have a chance for a 2-0 lead in Game 2.