Friday, June 2, 2023 | 2 a.m. | Friday, June 2, 2023 | 2 a.m.
What a difference a year makes.
Around this time in 2022, the Vegas Golden Knights were watching the Stanley Cup playoffs from home for the first time.
They didn’t have a coach.
Their No. 1 goalie and captain were both having surgery.
Whispers grew if this was the beginning of the end of their dominance as a top team after their first five seasons in the league.
So much for that. The Golden Knights are back in the Stanley Cup Final and four wins from cementing owner Bill Foley’s prediction of playoffs in three years, and the winning the Stanley Cup in six years.
What a bounceback season this has been. The Golden Knights recorded a franchise-record 111 points to clinch the top seed in the Western Conference, and eliminated the Winnipeg Jets, Edmonton Oilers and Dallas Stars to reach the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since that magical run in their inaugural 2017-18 season.
Standing opposite them are the Florida Panthers, the biggest surprise of these playoffs after entering the postseason as the second wild card in the Eastern Conference and stunning the Boston Bruins in seven games before beating the Toronto Maple Leafs and Carolina Hurricanes. The Panthers, who joined the league in 1993-94, are also looking for their first championship.
It’s been quite the eight months since the season opener and there have been plenty of moments to remember. We narrowed it down to these 10, in chronological order.
1: Oct. 11, 2022 at Los Angeles (4-3 win)
Five months after undergoing his first of what would be two back surgeries in less than a year, Mark Stone scored the game-winning goal with 24.9 seconds left. The Golden Knights’ captain dealt with back issues on three occasions last season, the first being in the second game of the season in Los Angeles. This time around, the memories in Crypto.com Arena were more jovial.
2: Nov. 10, 2022 at Buffalo (7-4 win)
Jack Eichel’s return to Buffalo didn’t go so well. His second visit will long be remembered. The former Sabres captain, who was traded to Vegas in November 2021 for forwards Alex Tuch and Peyton Krebs, recorded a hat trick in the third period at KeyBank Center. One of the lasting images was after Eichel’s first goal, extending his arms like actor Russell Crowe, asking the Buffalo crowd, “Are you not entertained?” That win also extended Vegas’ winning streak to nine games, one shy of tying the team record.
3: Dec. 5, 2022 at Boston (4-3 SO win)
Speaking of return games, Bruce Cassidy’s first in Boston was also celebrated with a victory. Cassidy coached his first game against the Bruins after being fired by them last summer following six seasons and one Stanley Cup Final appearance — a loss in seven games to the St. Louis Blues in 2019. In this contest, the Golden Knights jumped out to a 3-0 lead behind two goals from rookie Paul Cotter before the Bruins rallied to force overtime. Vegas’ Reilly Smith scored the lone goal by either team in the tiebreaker as the Golden Knights ended Boston’s NHL-record winning streak for home victories to open a season at 14.
4: Dec. 31, 2022 vs. Nashville (5-4 OT win)
The New Year’s Eve games at T-Mobile Arena have always had some memorable moments. This one nearly was for all the wrong reasons. Nashville’s Filip Forsberg scored two of his three goals in the third period, including the tying goal with five seconds remaining in regulation. Vegas had to play the final 10 minutes and overtime with four defensemen — Brayden McNabb was ejected midway through the second period for fighting, and Daniil Miromanov left in the third after blocking a shot. Defenseman Nic Hague scored the winning goal at 2:04 of overtime — the first such tally of his career — to give the Golden Knights something to celebratewhile closing December with a 7-6-1 record.
5. Feb. 25 vs. Dallas (3-2 SO loss)
It has to be a crazy moment for it to be remembered in a loss. That’s how goalie Laurent Brossoit’s sequence was in overtime against the Stars. Dallas got a 2-on-1 early in the extra period. Jason Robertson’s initial shot from the right side was saved. The rebound trickled to Tyler Seguin in the slot, and Brossoit barrel-rolled on his back to get a glove on Seguin’s attempt. That was part of a 41-save evening for Brossoit in the journeyman’s third NHL start after offseason hip surgery. He also made, arguably, the best save ever at T-Mobile Arena.
6: March 9 at Tampa Bay (4-3 OT win)
Injuries to Brossoit, Adin Hill and Logan Thompson forced the Golden Knights to add goalie insurance before the trade deadline. Enter longtime Vegas rival Jonathan Quick, who was acquired at the deadline from the Columbus Blue Jackets one day after being dealt by the Kings. Four days after making his Golden Knights debut, Quick had to face the Lightning, who were denied a third consecutive Stanley Cup last season, at Amalie Arena. Despite being severely outplayed through two periods, Vegas took a 3-1 lead midway through the third, only for Tampa’s high-powered offense to force overtime. Alec Martinez scored at 3:09 of overtime to give Vegas its fourth win in five games. Quick finished with 34 saves that night and followed with a 33-save shutout in Carolina two nights later.
7: April 20 vs. Winnipeg; Round 1, Game 2 (5-2 win)
After losing 5-1 in Game 1, the Golden Knights answered in an emphatic way to tie the series in Game 2. Leading the way was Stone, who three months prior underwent his second back surgery and was in his second game back in the lineup. Stone scored twice in the third period to lead his team to a win. Vegas went on to win the next three, with the next moment coming days later.
8: April 22 at Winnipeg; Round 1, Game 3 (5-4 2OT win)
The Golden Knights’ depth has been a focal point in why they reached the Stanley Cup Final. Michael Amadio, who had a career-high 16 goals this season, scored 3:40 into the second extra frame — his first playoff winner after the Golden Knights squandered a 4-1 third-period lead. That game took the life out of the Jets. Vegas scored 18 goals in Games 2 through 5 after falling in Game 1.
9: May 14 at Edmonton; Round 2, Game 6 (5-2 win)
After going back and forth through the series and following a thrilling Game 5 win at T-Mobile Arena, the Golden Knights ended the Oilers’ season with a come-from-behind effort for the ages. Jonathan Marchessault recorded a natural hat trick, and Adin Hill stopped 38 straight shots after allowing goals on the first two shots from the Oilers. William Karlsson and Reilly Smith also scored and Vegas put an end to the seasons of Edmonton’s high-scoring duo of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
10: May 29 at Dallas; Round 3, Game 6 (6-0 win)
The Golden Knights went into Game 6 trying for the third time to advance to the Stanley Cup Final. Stars coach — and former Vegas bench boss — Pete DeBoer even said the pressure shifted back to Vegas. The Golden Knights went on to play their best game of the playoffs, aided by a three-goal first period including the first of two scores by Karlsson, to move on Final. Hill, who is 7-3 in the playoffs since replacing the injured Brossoit in Game 3 against Edmonton, made 23 saves en route to his second shutout of the series.