Just once since 2015 has a team won the Stanley Cup on home ice. There are a myriad of reasons, known and unknown, why such an anomaly exists. The Vegas Golden Knights will have a chance to become the second team if they beaet the Florida Panthers Tuesday, joining the 2015 Chicago Blackhawks and 2021 Tampa Bay Lightning, who hoisted the Cup before cheering faithful.
They said all of the right things on Monday. But saying and doing are often different things when the Cup is in the building.
Tuesday, coach Bruce Cassidy’s tone was just a little hurried. They know what is at stake is more than just winning the final game of the season. But they also know how to get into their routine.
“I think our guys, once they get in the car to drive to the rink, you’re back in your routine now. You’re doing what you do to prepare, and you get a lot more normalized, which you’ve done all year. So that’s the good news,” Cassidy said. “You’re here now, going through their prep to play another game. That’s where they’re probably at their most comfortable.”
Again easier said than done. At no point in the series has Florida shown themselves to be the better team, but their desperation level will be at level 10. The Golden Knights will have two challenges, the Panthers and themselves.
1. Make Sure the Moment Doesn’t Get too Big
The pressure and desire to win in front of friends, family, and fans can be overwhelming. The cumulative desire in the building can become a detriment rather than an accelerant.
My favorite example is the 2016 Pittsburgh Penguins. Nearly 100,000 people showed up outside the arena, beginning in the morning of Game 5. By early afternoon, word had spread, and the downtown area was effectively closed down by mass overcrowding. The players couldn’t get to the rink on time. They were freaked out by the sheer size of the crowd. And those folks were eager. They could be heard inside the building all night.
The Penguins never got their good rhythm in that game and lost to the inferior San Jose Sharks, forcing Game 6, which the Penguins won convincingly.
The emotions can get away from you quickly. There are a lot of distractions and thoughts floating about. Focus and leadership will be crucial.
“A lot of excitement. We understand the magnitude of the moment,” said captain Mark Stone. “And as I say, just walking in the building (it) gets more comfortable. When you get into the arena, the routine starts, and it’s a lot easier.”
2. Settling In
Following No. 1, the Golden Knights don’t need to blow out Florida in the first 10 minutes. Sure, that would help, but they first need to get comfortable. Adin Hill must make a few saves. The VGK’s best players will need to get some touches, and everyone will need to get into their groove and remember it’s the same hockey they’ve played since October.
3. Keep it Simple, Stupid
Almost in the same vein as the first two, tonight isn’t the night for big cross-ice passes out of the defensive zone. It’s not the night to charge head-long into defensive zone coverage without numbers, and it’s not the time to get cute.
The Golden Knights are on the cusp of greatness because they are a deep, heavy, solid team that has received contributions from all parties. Their defense has first kept Adin Hill clean and joined the play when smart to do so.
It’s not the night for defensemen to imitate Erik Karlsson or Brent Burns, trying to rush the length of the ice past five defensemen. Those kinds of plays result in turnovers at the lines and the puck in your own net.
So, if the Golden Knights can get into their game, settle their emotions, and play as they’ve played, there is a very good chance the City of Las Vegas will have its first men’s major sports championship. The parade route is secret. The details have surely been drawn.
Now, it’s time for the Vegas Golden Knights to reach their destiny.