Tuesday, June 13, 2023 | 11:20 p.m.
Bruce Cassidy walked his dog Winnie at around 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday.
Other than the obvious reasons for taking a dog on a walk, two things would be accomplished on this trek: It would lower his anxiety, and he’d decide on his starting lineup in the biggest game in Golden Knights history.
Cassidy made his mind up that he would start five of the remaining six original Golden Knights — Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson, Reilly Smith, Brayden McNabb and Shea Theodore — in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final. William Carrier got the short end of the stick, but he did receive a proper apology.
In front of the largest crowd ever for a Golden Knights game at T-Mobile Arena, a staggering 19,058, the five received the loudest ovation likely ever heard during player introductions. One more time, the Misfit Line would skate together. This time, to finish the job they started six years ago.
Consider the final chapter finished.
Seven different players scored, including a historic hat trick from captain Mark Stone, to pave the way for a dominant 9-3 Golden Knights victory over the Florida Panthers to capture the first Stanley Cup in franchise history Tuesday night, coming in the sixth year of their existence.
“It got me all surprised. I didn’t know we were going to start,” Marchessault said. “It was a great gesture. Well-thought, and I didn’t even think of it.”
To put some cold water on this feel-good moment, not everyone thought it was a good idea. Golden Knights president of hockey operations George McPhee said it was a “bit of a gimmick, and we’d never done that sort of thing.”
Perhaps that’s a fair way to think of it because the Golden Knights still needed to win one more game. If they lost, all the energy and anticipation heading into a close-out Game 5 goes to waste and the series shifts back to Florida.
But Cassidy felt it was the right call to give the proper recognition to those six remaining who laid the foundation for what has become in Las Vegas.
“I thought it would be nice and give us a little juice,” Cassidy said. “Whether it did or not, I don’t know, but they deserved it.”
Cassidy won’t be alone in thinking they deserved it.
On a night where Stone scored the first hat trick in a Stanley Cup Final since Peter Forsberg with the Colorado Avalanche in 1996 — also against the Panthers — he also acknowledged the contributions of the remaining six.
“Those guys, they mean a lot to this city,” Stone said. “They’ve poured everything into this city and organization, and those guys are emotional players. It was pretty easy for us to jump on board with that.”
Stone, as the captain, was the first to receive the Stanley Cup from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. After taking his victory lap with the 35-pound silver trophy, the first person Stone handed it to was Smith.
And then Marchessault, the Conn Smythe Trophy winner after a 25-point postseason (13 goals, 12 assists).
And then Karlsson.
Then McNabb, then Theodore, then Carrier.
Marchessault was given a slight heads up that Smith was going to get the Cup first, and then he was next in line.
“I was kind of shocked a little bit, because we have so many veterans in that locker room and guys who came in at different times the past six years and were huge for us,” Marchessault said. “It was definitely a great gesture and something that will go down as one of the classiest things I’ve seen.”
All six made some contribution in their own way to reach this point.
Karlsson’s lost goal-scoring touch returned in an emphatic way during the playoffs with 11 goals. Smith had 14 points (four goals, 10 assists) and was vital in the Golden Knights’ team defense.
Carrier, who had a career-high 16 goals in the regular season, missed the final month of the regular season with a lower-body injury, returned for Game 5 of the first round against Winnipeg and solidified the forward depth that carried the Golden Knights on a nightly basis.
McNabb remained a net-positive as a stay-at-home defenseman. Theodore struggled through the first two-and-a-half rounds, only to find his game against Dallas and finish with six points (one goal, five assists) in the Cup Final.
And then there’s Marchessault, who did not have a goal in Vegas’ first seven playoff games, only to finish with 13 — tying him with Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl for the most in the postseason — and concluding his run with a 10-game point streak (eight goals, seven assists).
Marchessault’s journey — from an undrafted player, to 124 games in five years with three different teams, to being left unprotected in the expansion draft by these same Panthers — culminates in the acknowledgment of one of the best playoff performers over the last six years. He’s already the all-time goals leader (150) and points leader (348) in Golden Knights history.
His 71 points in 88 playoff games are also the most in team history.
“It was a bumpy ride, for sure,” Marchessault said. “A lot of hard work, especially the last few years.”
There’s also the sentimental part for these six.
They were part of the inaugural team who had to get to know the community before they played a game. In their first season in Las Vegas, they visited blood banks and first responders in a city still reeling from the Oct. 1, 2017 mass shooting that killed 58 people that night, and later 60.
Getting to the Stanley Cup Final in Year 1, though losing to the Washington Capitals, was storybook. But the Golden Knights went into that final hoping to win more for the healing city as much, if not more, than for themselves.
To win it in front of a sold-out T-Mobile Arena proved the moment even more special.
“It was redemption night, right?” Carrier said. “Put the boys out there, and it was emotional. We had business to do.”
There are other names on this roster that will get their flowers.
Jack Eichel more than delivered in his first taste of playoff hockey with a league-best 26 points (six goals, 20 assists).
Adin Hill finished 11-4 after getting thrown into the fire in Game 3 of the second round against Edmonton with the exit of starting goaltender Laurent Brossoit. Hill ended up producing one of the best stretch runs by a goalie in recent memory — to the point fans were chanting his name after every save.
Stone, off his second back surgery in less than a year, finished with 24 points (11 goals, 13 assists) in 22 games.
All are worthy of praise, and all will be acknowledged in due time. But they also know where it all began. The remaining six were part of the group that many felt would be the worst expansion team of all time. They were Cinderella then.
Every story needs a “happily ever after” moment. The Golden Knights now have theirs.
“We’ve been here for six years,” Marchessault said. “We grinded. We wanted to get back and have that feeling we had the first year, to get back to the dance. We knew that this year, if we got back, things would be different. It was just fun to be a part of it.”