Michael Dwyer / AP, file
Tuesday, June 13, 2023 | 2 a.m.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman spoke at center ice following the conclusion of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final between the St. Louis Blues and Boston Bruins.
He detailed St. Louis’ five-decade quest to earn the franchise’s first championship, and then helped continue the party.
“Captain Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis has been waiting a long time for this,” Bettman said. “Come get the Stanley Cup.”
Pietrangelo, now on the verge of another championship with the Vegas Golden Knights, had the honor of being the first player in Blues history to hoist the Stanley Cup — a tradition for the captain of the winning captain.
“Grab it, lift it, and find Bow,” said Pietrangelo, referencing longtime teammate Jay Bouwmeester as the first one he passed the Stanley Cup to. Bouwmeester retired in 2021 after a 17-year career and less than a year after a cardiac episode during a game.
Gloves and helmets are thrown into the air when the final buzzer sounds following the conclusion of the series, with players on the winning team storming towards their goalie in a mosh-pit-style gathering at the net. It’s followed by the two teams meeting at center ice to shake hands after playing for what’s considered the hardest trophy in sports to win.
Something like this could happen tonight if the Golden Knights finish off the Florida Panthers in Game 5 at T-Mobile Arena (5 p.m., TNT).
How the emotion will be portrayed is unknown because it hasn’t happened yet for most of the Golden Knights roster.
Only six players know what it’s like: Pietrangelo and Ivan Barbashev with the Blues in 2019, Alec Martinez and Jonathan Quick with the Los Angeles Kings in 2012 and 2014, Chandler Stephenson with the Washington Capitals in 2018, and Phil Kessel in 2016 and 2017 with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
There’s no clear way to plan for what’s to happen when it does, as Pietrangelo can attest.
“You just get lost in the moment,” said the Golden Knights defenseman. “At least for me, I was (in St. Louis) for 13 years and we had gotten close many times. To finally get over that hump … not so much the emotion, but the excitement.”
The Blues were in last place in January 2019 before going on their improbable run. Barbashev was an important bottom-six player on that team because of his physicality.
When Barbashev received the Cup from forward Oskar Sundqvist, it was a moment he couldn’t describe.
“It takes time to realize what you did,” said Barbashev, who was acquired by Vegas from St. Louis prior to the trade deadline and has six goals and 11 assists in 21 games this postseason. “It probably took me a month to realize I won the Cup. But it’s a great feeling. It’s probably a once-in-a-lifetime feeling. You just feel really proud of what the team does, going through the whole season and playoffs.”
Martinez not only has two rings, but he’s the reason for one of them. He scored the Cup-winning goal in deep in the second overtime in Game 5 against the New York Rangers in 2014.
Martinez also won both championships on home ice, a feeling that added more to the celebration. In 2014, Martinez nearly did a full lap around the rink after taking the Cup from forward Kyle Clifford.
“It’s important to stay even-keeled throughout the playoffs because you’re in a revved-up, emotional environment,” Martinez said. “When you’re in it, you feel it, but you don’t necessarily know how revved up it is until it’s all over. It’s obviously exciting, but emotional.”
Should the Golden Knights win tonight, Stephenson would have the rare distinction of hoisting the Cup a second time inside T-Mobile Arena.
“It’s a different game than the other ones. There’s a lot more emotion, a lot more everything. Everyone knows what’s going to be there,” Stephenson said. “Being at home too, in front of our fans, everyone’s going to be into it.”
The Golden Knights will have three chances to win their first Stanley Cup in franchise history. The importance of winning it the first try is paramount in not letting the series go back to Sunrise, Fla., for a Game 6 Friday night.
Martinez, the second oldest player on the roster, will turn 36 in July. One thing he learned the first two times was the importance of staying calm in the moment, balancing urgency with relaxing.
Coach Bruce Cassidy, who guided the Bruins in their championship series loss to the Blues, has said throughout the playoffs that before getting to 16 wins and earning the Cup, “you have to get to 15.”
“There’s a lot of guys that have been in this position before, and I think that’s something that benefited us,” Stephenson said. “One win away from a lot of dreams for a lot of guys.”