LAS VEGAS (AP) — Golden Knights owner Bill Foley was aggressive from the beginning, saying he wanted to win the Stanley Cup in six years.
Vegas nearly won it the first year, making the Stanley Cup Final before losing in five games to the Washington Capitals. For the players on that team, high expectations came from the top and came early.
“Maybe (Foley) saw something that we didn’t see,” said Jonathan Marchessault, one of the players on that 2017-18 team.
Marchessault and his Vegas teammates have the opportunity to make good on the owner’s projection. The Knights, who are in their sixth season, take a 3-1 series lead into Tuesday’s Stanley Cup Final game against the Florida Panthers.
Meaning the Stanley Cup will be in T-Mobile Arena for the second time. The first time was in 2018 when the Capitals skated around the rink holding the cherished prize.
The Knights have their own version of the Original Six, the half-dozen members still in the Vegas dressing room who were on that inaugural club. They called themselves the Golden Misfits, a collection of players assembled from teams around the league through the expansion draft and trades.
The six Misfits have ingrained in their collective memory of coming so close to what would have been a shocking championship, and they have been working ever since to get back to that point. Those players are careful to point out no celebrations can take place unless they beat the Panthers.
“It would be sweet, but at the same time, we can’t get ahead of ourselves,” said Shea Theodore, an original Knight. “It’s good to be at this point, but at the same time, it’s not done. We can talk about that after, but our focus is on going to work for 60 minutes. I feel like if we’re on top of our game, then we should be good.”
The Misfits have their fingerprints all over these playoffs.
Marchessault is the overwhelming favorite, according to FanDuel Sportsbook, to win the Conn Smythe Trophy for MVP of the NHL playoffs. His 13 goals are tied for the league postseason high as are his 24 points.
William Karlsson has scored 11 goals, and his defense has been key. Coach Bruce Cassidy usually rolls his four lines, but played a little bit of a matchup game in the second-round series against the Edmonton Oilers by often putting Karlsson’s line on the ice with Connor McDavid.
Theodore’s nine assists are third among playoff defensemen. He snapped a 27-game goal drought with a key score in Game 1 against Florida and had an assist.
William Carrier, Brayden McNabb and Reilly Smith also made important contributions.
“All the guys have stepped out, had big moments and played solid,” McNabb said. “I think it kind of (speaks) to the depth on our team. When you have that buy-in, it’s a pretty hard team to beat.”
Vegas has been tough to beat from the beginning.
Facing the usual low expectations of an expansion team, the bond between team and city began to be forged after the mass shooting Oct. 1, 2017, that initially claimed 58 lives. The death total from what in Las Vegas is commonly referred to as One October has since been revised to 60.
More than providing a distraction for a hurting city, the Knights won from the beginning. They surprisingly made the playoffs and then went 12-3 in the first three rounds to advance to the Stanley Cup Final.
After falling short to the Capitals, management decided to begin taking apart the team and setting the stage to bring in high-profile players, eventually adding the likes of Mark Stone, Jack Eichel and Alex Pietrangelo. The Knights also are on the third coach despite making the postseason each year but once.
This season’s team bears little resemblance to the first. Except for those six remaining players.
“We came that close in the first year, but there are a lot of guys in this room that have been playing a long time, a lot of hard games, a lot of battles trying to get to this moment,” Theodore said.
Foley set the expectations from beginning.
Playoffs in three. Cup in six.
“After we lost in the finals the first year, Bill said, ‘OK, Stanley Cup in three,’” Smith said. “I don’t know if that got published, but we’ve felt we’ve had the team every year to push and to challenge for the Stanley Cup. We’re in a better spot today, but there’s a lot of work to be done.”
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