While some teams, such as the Toronto Maple Leafs, haven’t won a Cup in 56 years, the nascent Vegas Golden Knights weren’t content to wait their turn. In the past decade, the NHL has been rapidly expanding on the West Coast with two new teams, including the 6-year-old Vegas Golden Knights who just last week notched their first Stanley Cup win.
Sitting at number one in the Western League standings, the Golden Knights had a historic season under first-year bench boss Bruce Cassidy. They entered the playoffs as the Pacific Division’s first seed, making quick work of both the Winnipeg Jets and the Edmonton Oilers, with neither series reaching a Game 7.
Between the Knights and their first Cup lay only one obstacle: the underdog Eastern Conference Champions. The Florida Panthers barely scraped their way into the playoffs, coming in as a wildcard team, but quickly made their way through the bracket and some tough opponents.
The Panthers battled the Boston Bruins in the first round, a team that held the best season record in NHL history: 65, 12, 5. The Bruins went 65-12-5 during the regular season. For that victory, the Panthers were rewarded with forward superstars Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs, going on to sweep the Carolina Hurricanes.
What made this final so interesting? The vast difference in the two teams’ style of play.
Throughout the playoffs, the Panthers relied on recent acquire Matthew Tkachuk, who scored a grand total of 11 goals in the one-month span. Tkachuk is both praised and criticized for his aggressive style of play, one that often leads to injuries for his opponents. On the other side of the blue line, the Knights put their trust in showstopping goaltender Adin Hill as well as veterans Mark Stone and Jonathan Marchessault, who went on to win the Conn Smythe trophy, awarded to the most valuable postseason player.
Despite Tkachuk and the Panthers’ efforts, the Golden Knights made quick work of the team led by coach Paul Maurice, with the first two games of the series going 5-2 and 7-2, in favor of Las Vegas. Panthers fans saw a glimmer of hope when they took Game 3 3-2, but the momentum wasn’t enough to drive them towards the Cup. The Knights won Game 4 3-2 and then took the title in Game 5 with a blowout 9-3 victory.
“An appropriate congratulations to Vegas,” Maurice said in a press conference after Game 5. “They earned it. They were outstanding.”
With this victory, the Golden Knights became the fastest NHL expansion team to secure a Cup. NHL action will pick up again in October. Until then, fans can look forward to the NHL Entry Draft set for June 28.