Vegas Golden Knights win Stanley Cup
by Erin Brown|14 JUN 2023
Adin Hill looks out to the ice in the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Riga, Latvia.
North American hockey's coveted silver chalice is now in the hands of the Vegas Golden Knights.

Vegas captured its first Stanley Cup with a 9-3 win over the Florida Panthers in Game 5 on Tuesday.

Jonathan Marchessault won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the postseason's most valuable player. The Golden Knights forward finished second among postseason scorers with 25 points in 22 games.

In Tuesday's series-clincher, captain Mark Stone had a hat trick and forward Jack Eichel added three assists in the victory. Adin Hill finished with 29 saves.

"It was heavier than I thought," Stone said of lifting the Cup. "I'm pretty calm right now. I think I exuded most of my energy. It's the best feeling in the world. You try to soak it all in as much as you can. 

"It's finally come true, your childhood goal to be an NHL player. And once you get to the NHL, your goal is to win the Stanley Cup. Here we are, Stanley Cup Champions, and I couldn't be more excited for this group, this city and the organization as a whole."

Stone opened the scoring with a shorthanded goal 11:52 into the contest. After Florida's Carter Verhaeghe bobbled the puck at the right point Stone collected it and scored on a breakaway. Vegas doubled its lead 1:49 later when Nicolas Hague found a loose puck in the crease during a scramble and shovelled it past Florida's Sergei Bobrovsky.

Florida's Aaron Ekblad cut the lead to 2-1 with a slap shot from the right point 2:15 into the second period. But the Golden Knights pulled away after the midway point of the period with goals by defender Alec Martinez, Reilly Smith, Stone and Michael Amadio.

Stone capped the hat trick with an empty-net goal in the third period.

No players joined the IIHF's Triple Gold Club this year, but Stone, Hill, Karlsson moved one step closer. As members of Team Canada, Stone captured gold with the 2016 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship team, while Hill accomplished the feat in 2021. Karlsson won with Sweden in 2017. All three would need an Olympic gold to complete the trifecta.

"It's exciting. I'm just thinking about the Cup right now, but it's exciting," Hill said.

While the vast majority of Golden Knights hail from North America, the Stanley Cup is still expected to make a couple appearances in Europe. One stop will include a trip to Sweden with Karlsson. Latvian forward Teddy Blueger is excited to bring the Cup to his homeland, which is still buzzing from its men's team winning bronze at the 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship. It will mark the first time the Stanley Cup will be in the hockey-mad Baltic nation with a player.

"I'm sure everyone was following," Blueger said. "I haven't thought about it yet, but I'd bring it for my family. To have it there would be cool. I think (the fans) are just extremely loyal and passionate. It's kind of a completely different culture."

Vegas advanced to its second Stanley Cup Finals appearance with series wins over the Winnipeg Jets in five games and the Edmonton Oilers and Dallas Stars in six. 

"It's a whole different animal," said Golden Knights defender Zach Whitecloud in comparing this Cup run to his experience at the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship where he won silver with Canada. "You're not too stressed out on things in those games, because you're playing with different guys and trying to figure out different guys' games and D-partners. So you kind of just go out there and play, not expecting perfection. Where as this, you've been practicing for 82 games, know your own game and you're trying to fine tune your game throughout the season.

"But any chance you get to play hockey, it's never taken for granted."

Florida made an improbable three-month run to advance to its first Stanley Cup Finals in 27 years. With just 92 points, the 17th highest point total in the league, the Panthers secured a postseason birth on the last day of the season -- and received additional help to do so. The Chicago Blackhawks' 5-2 win over Pittsburgh on April 11 kept the Penguins from climbing in the standings.

Florida then overcame a 3-1 series deficit in its opening round against the Boston Bruins, who finished with an NHL record 65 wins and 135 points. The Panthers then dispatched the Toronto Maple Leafs in six games and swept the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Finals. 

"It's hard right now, but it's something I'll remember the rest of my life," Panthers captain and former Finnish Olympian Aleksander Barkov said. "Every time I step on the ice, whether it's a practice or game, I'll remember this group. It was a hell of a journey."

Known in South Florida as the "Cardiac Cats" for their late-game heroics, the Panthers went 7-0 in overtime during the stretch. American Matthew Tkachuk delivered the winner in a 3-2 win over Carolina in four overtimes, in the sixth longest game in NHL history at 139:47. It was the longest game in each franchise's history.

But the Panthers struggled to solve the Golden Knights' defence and goaltender Adin Hill. Florida, which ranked sixth during the regular season scoring an average 3.51 goals per game, were held to fewer than three goals in three of its four losses. Tkachuk, the Panthers' top scorer with 109 points in the regular season and 24 in the playoffs, missed Game 5 with a broken sternum.