The Vegas Golden Knights will forever be the 2023 Stanley Cup champions. No matter what happens with this team in the following years, whether it is more championships or implosion, no one can take away their moment with the Cup, and their names will be etched in silver.
The team may lose Ivan Barbashev and Adin Hill, as both will get hefty paydays, but it will keep the vast majority of players who lifted Lord Stanely, including their key players: captain Mark Stone, Jonathan Marchessault, Jack Eichel, Alex Pietrangelo.
But that’s not what made the Vegas Golden Knights special. A lot of teams have a lot of talent.
No, there was an expectation of winning within the roster. They weren’t surprised or happy. Perhaps their Stanley Cup opponent, the Florida Panthers, had a week to digest their accomplishments and were not the same team that buzz-sawed through Boston, Toronto, and Carolina, winning 11 of 12 games after falling behind 3-1 to Boston.
“The togetherness of our team. The timeliness of our responses. We didn’t start the playoffs the way we wanted, but we got to our game against Winnipeg,” coach Bruce Cassidy began. “Edmonton is tied 2-2, and we’ve to step up and take control of the series in Game 5 and 6, and I think that really pushed us through a major hurdle to get through that series.
“Once we were (in the Stanley Cup Final), I truly believe we weren’t going to be denied. That’s no disrespect to Florida, but I felt it with our guys, You could sense we were all business, not (just) happy to be there. Wanting to get it right.”
The Golden Knights stood on the shoulders of the Misfit culture, and it became a rallying point to finish the job those originals started. They didn’t waver.
Cassidy started five Misfits in Game 5 and those six originals were to whom captain Mark Stone first passed the Stanley Cup.
Before the Cup Final, Vegas Hockey Now asked Pietrangelo if there was a moment this season or in the playoffs that let him know this was possible. He balked at the idea that they ever doubted it.
“We did win the Pacific Division. We had the most points in the Western Conference,” he said matter of factly before expounding on team expectations.
And that was one reason the team was able to lift the Stanley Cup. They expected to do so, and in the process, their emotions never got the better of them. Florida was wild to begin the Final, trying to get everything that moved, and the Golden Knights took advantage of power plays and open ice.
The Dallas Stars did not go quietly and put all of the pressure on the Golden Knights to win Game 6, lest Dallas was about to rally from down 3-0 to force a Game 7. Instead, the Golden Knights bore down and played perhaps their best game of the playoffs.
The Edmonton Oilers pushed. Oh, the Oilers pushed. They had a lot on the line, and Connor McDavid needs to finally win a Stanley Cup to truly have his name mentioned with the greats of all time. From Wayne Gretzky to Sidney Crosby, the greatest players have Stanley Cup rings, plural. McDavid is still waiting for his first chance, eight years on.
Edmonton played to its fullest potential; the power play was brilliant, they skated hard every shift and pushed the Golden Knights to the brink. And it was in that Edmonton series you saw the most consistent pushback in recent NHL memory.
“It was physical. It was nasty. You’ve got some all-world talent,” Cassidy said. “You’re sitting there, you’re halfway feeling like we can get this done. We’re as good as anybody.”
How many times in that series did the VGK answer an Edmonton goal within minutes? Barbashev did it twice in Game 1.
The Golden Knights didn’t let overtime drag on, either. They flexed their capabilities, swarmed the opponent, and ended it twice in the first two games against Dallas. The second time seemed to break Dallas’ spirit when Chandler Stephenson dominated a shift and scored the winner one minute into OT.
When pushed, the Golden Knights didn’t tighten up, they didn’t get too aggressive, they took what they needed, and there was no stopping them. They also led the NHL during the playoffs in goals scored in the first five minutes.
They set the tone of most games. With their big defensemen entrenched in the D-zone, the Golden Knights are a tough team to come back on. Contrast that with division rivals, the San Jose Sharks and Calgary Flames (22), who gave up more than 20 leads through the regular season, the Golden Knights were able to lock it down.
Only 12 times during the regular season did the Golden Knights lose a lead, and 10 of those were one-goal leads. Only twice all season did the Golden Knights lose when leading by two goals. Stats from MoreHockeyStats.com.
It’s hard to know exactly why the Golden Knights were special. Some teams have “it.” When Edmonton pushed, the Golden Knights pushed back harder. The Golden Knights left little doubt in Edmonton’s head space who was the better team with resounding wins in Game 5 and Game 6 to close the series.
They didn’t leave Dallas much room to ponder “what if” after the WCF, either.
The Golden Knights had an innate ability to respond to challenges, they could take the puck and keep it, and the Golden Knights could attack in four-line waves like no other team in the NHL. That depth wasn’t just for defense, but it added offense, too.
The cherry on the sundae was a handful of spectacular performances by goalie Adin Hill, the fourth-string goalie.
Was there any doubt the Golden Knights were going to win the Stanley Cup after Hill made that extraordinary diving stop in Game 2? Was there any doubt about the outcome when Barbashev hit everything that moved early in Game 1, including a vicious reverse check?
Part of greatness is reliability. Inconsistency doesn’t cut it. Part of greatness is acceptance without fear, not every team can keep its emotions in check and maintain a steely sense of purpose. And the Golden Knights seized opportunities in historic ways finishing their high-danger chances with amazing regularity. Their PDO was a healthy 106, meaning they scored above their expected rates.
But that’s what great teams do. They respond. They push. They break other teams with a force of will. McDavid was frustrated by the end of Round Two. Dallas understood which was the better team, and so did the Florida Panthers on the wrong end of a 9-3 lesson in Game 5.
The Golden Knights were resolute, opportunistic, and consistent. Add it all together, and things that aren’t supposed to be possible become matter-of-fact. Teams aren’t supposed to keep scoring when scored upon, yet the Vegas Golden Knights made a habit of overwhelming opponents when challenged.
Teams aren’t supposed to attack with relentless consistency as the Golden Knights did. Combine that with an ability to dominate the area around their own net, bedeviling opponents who could only window shop for offense.
The formula worked and did so on every level.
Saturday night, they’ll get to celebrate with a few hundred thousand of their closest friends on the most famous street in the world.