After missing playoffs last season, Vegas returns to Stanley Cup Final
DALLAS (AP) — Vegas captain Mark Stone credits the front office for keeping the core intact after the Golden Knights missed the playoffs for the only time in the young franchise's history last year.
The only major change was with the coach, and Bruce Cassidy — fired by Boston last year — just beat the man he replaced, Pete DeBoer, with Vegas' 6-0 rout of the Dallas Stars in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final on Monday night.
As for the guys on the ice, not much has changed, as the clincher showed.
William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault, two of the leading playoff scorers going all the way back to the franchise's other Stanley Cup Final in the expansion season of 2017-18, played a big part in finally eliminating the Stars, who extended the series after falling behind 3-0.
“A lot of emotions,” said Stone, who was traded to Vegas during the franchise's second season, which ended in the first round of the playoffs. “It starts with missing the playoffs last year. Management and ownership giving this group another chance to come back and go at it again. Shows a lot of trust in the players.”
DeBoer's final season in Vegas was plagued by injuries, and he acknowledged being “rattled” by the decision by the Golden Knights the day he was introduced in Dallas.
There was vindication for both sides with both teams reaching the conference finals, and maybe a bit more for Vegas by winning this series for a 2nd Cup final in the franchise's six seasons.
DeBoer took Vegas to the West final the season he replaced the original Vegas coach, Gerard Gallant, when the Knights lost to Dallas in the playoff bubble in Canada before the Stars' six-game defeat to Tampa Bay in the Cup final.
“The adversity that (the Knights) dealt with last year and they’re healthy now and playing,” DeBoer said. “You know, if we can’t win, there’s a lot of guys in that dressing room that I hope could win a Cup with what they’ve been through.”
After losing to Washington under Gallant in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final, the Knights lost a Game 7 in the first round a year later against DeBoer and the San Jose Sharks.
Vegas won two Game 7s under DeBoer in consecutive trips to the NHL semifinals, and the core that's been together since the inaugural season just passed a regular season's worth of postseason games. The clinching victory over Dallas was the franchise's 83rd playoff game.
“It just shows in our game how composed we are,” Marchessault said. “Being down or being up, playing the right way. I just think we have a veteran group and we’ve been put in a lot of different situations the past year. We’ve responded pretty well. But we’re never going to get satisfied until we win it all.”
Marc-André Fleury, a three-time Stanley Cup champion before joining the Golden Knights, and a Vezina Trophy winner with them, was the anchor in net for the early years.
This run has been with Adin Hill, who took over for the injured Laurent Brossoit in the second round outplayed 2022 playoff sensation Jake Oettinger of Dallas, finishing this series with two shutouts.
The defensive formula in front of Hill is similar to five years ago, as is the balanced scoring from Vegas' first postseason run.
While Karlsson set a franchise record with 10 goals in these playoffs, the Knights didn't have an 80-point scorer in the regular season before their first Cup run — and didn't have a 70-point scorer this season.
“We have some veteran guys,” Cassidy said. “Credit to them. They’ve been through it. And here we are. We took another step. Now the conversation becomes about finishing the job.”
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