There will be a first-time Stanley Cup winner after this year’s NHL championship round.
Vegas will face the Florida Panthers, who swept their conference final and are making their first appearance in the Final since 1996. The teams tied the season series 1-1.
The Golden Knights had taken a 3-0 lead in the series, but the Stars had won the next two games. However, on Monday night, the Golden Knights stormed out to a 3-0 first-period lead en route to a decisive series-clinching victory.
William Carter opened the scoring 3:41 into the game, and William Karlsson and Keegan Kolesar added first-peiod goals. Jonathan Marchessault continued his impressive postseason by scoring in the second period. Karlsson tallied a second goal in the third period and Michael Amadio scored Vegas’ sixth goal.
Stanley Cup Final schedule: What to know for Golden Knights-Panthers
A look at the matchup in the best-of-seven Stanley Cup Final, which opens Saturday night in Las Vegas:
How did the Vegas Golden Knights get to the Stanley Cup Final?
The Golden Knights went for it last season by trading for Jack Eichel but they missed the playoffs for the first time because of injuries (Eichel didn’t suit up until after neck surgery) and salary cap woes. Coach Peter DeBoer was fired and former Boston Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy replaced him.
Injuries continued, especially to captain Mark Stone and in net. Robin Lehner missed the 2022-23 season and there were five different starting goaltenders, but the Golden Knights won the Pacific Division and clinched the Western Conference’s best record. Laurent Brossoit began the playoffs as the No. 1 goalie but was hurt and has been replaced by Adin Hill.
Stone returned for the playoffs and a healthy lineup including Eichel, Chandler Stephenson, William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault and trade deadline acquisition and former Stanley Cup winner Ivan Barbashev has the Golden Knights back in the Final. They beat the Winnipeg Jets (five games), Edmonton Oilers (six games) and Stars (six games). The Golden Knights’ big defenders block shots and thrive at keeping teams to the outside.
A couple of former Panthers have played a big role in making Vegas an early success. Marchessault was left unprotected and then-GM Dale Tallon traded Reilly Smith (for a fourth-round pick) to the Golden Knights, who reached the Stanley Cup Final in their first season in 2017-18. Marchessault has nine goals and six assists in his last 10 games.
How did the Florida Panthers get to the Stanley Cup Final?
The Panthers, who finished 19 points behind the Golden Knights, are no ordinary 92-point team. They had 122 points last season as Presidents’ Trophy winners but retooled after a second-round ouster. That took time to adjust under new coach Paul Maurice, but the Panthers surged and clinched the second wild-card team spot. They then upset the Bruins (135 points) in seven games, overcoming a 3-1 series deficit, the Toronto Maple Leafs (111) in five games and Carolina Hurricanes (113) in four.
Matthew Tkachuk, the gritty scorer acquired in a summer blockbuster trade, leads the Panthers with 21 points and had three game-winning goals in the conference final. Captain Aleksander Barkov is one of the top two-way forwards in the league. Sam Bennett and Radko Gudas are physical forces and the Panthers get scoring from their defense and up and down the lineup. Their aggressive forechecking disrupts opponents.
The other key is veteran goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who has reclaimed the form that won him two Vezina trophies. He didn’t start until Game 4 of the first round, losing to the Bruins. But Maurice put him back in for Game 5, and he stopped Brad Marchand on a late-game breakaway on the way to an 11-1 run. Starting in the second round, he gave up two or fewer goals in eight consecutive games before the Hurricanes got three past him on Wednesday. He has two 50-save games, including 63 in a four-overtime win in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final.
What is the schedule for the Stanley Cup Final?
(all times p,m. ET, x-if necessary)
Saturday, June 3: Florida at Vegas, 8, TNT
Monday, June 5: Florida at Vegas, 8, TNT
Thursday, June 8: Vegas at Florida, 8, TNT
Saturday, June 10: Vegas at Florida, 8, TNT
x-Tuesday, June 13: Florida at Vegas, 8, TNT
x-Friday, June 16: Vegas at Florida, 8, TNT
x-Monday, June 19: Florida at Vegas, 8, TNT