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Knights ready to try and repeat: ‘It’s something they want to do’

Adrenaline flowed when Mark Stone hoisted the Stanley Cup.

It was 15 minutes after the Golden Knights completed owner Bill Foley’s “Cup in Six” prophecy with a 9-3 win over the Florida Panthers on June 13. Stone skated to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman to receive the 35-pound silver trophy.

Little did anyone know the captain was going to lift the Cup with a fractured wrist. After recovering from his second back surgery in less than a year by the start of the playoffs.

It didn’t matter.

“I could’ve probably lifted that thing with a broken arm,” Stone said at the start of training camp in September.

The Knights spent six years as the upstart franchise that turned the NHL’s world upside down.

They went from Cinderella darlings their inaugural season — coming three wins shy of winning it all — to villains who were willing to do what it took to win.

The Knights are no longer the hunter. They’re the hunted as they try to become the third team since the turn of the century to win back-to-back championships.

“You’re the champs,” center William Karlsson said. “Everyone wants to get you.”

The Knights couldn’t have picked a better way to start their title defense.

No defending champion has ever gotten off to the kind of start they did. They won their first seven games and went 11-0-1 their first 12.

The roller coaster started after that.

The Knights came back to earth because of inconsistent play and injuries. They posted a .536 points percentage — the 21st-best mark in the NHL — the rest of the way. They were just six points above the playoff cutline March 9.

The Knights ended the season strong enough to secure their sixth trip to the postseason in seven years. Now they’re focused on repeating what they did last year.

“We have a good understanding everyone is coming after us,” defenseman Brayden McNabb said. “We’re the defending champions. Most nights, we got everyone’s best. There are times we handled it great, other times we didn’t handle it well.”

Difficult road

The Knights are trying to follow the footsteps of other modern dynasties. Still, recent history has shown how hard it is to lift the Cup twice in a row.

The Chicago Blackhawks won three championships in a six-year span from 2010-15 but never went back to back. The Los Angeles Kings won the Cup in 2012 and 2014 but lost in the Western Conference Final in 2013.

The only teams that have won it all twice in a row since 2000 are the 2016-17 Pittsburgh Penguins and the 2020-21 Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Knights hope to join that group. They brought back everyone who played in the Cup clincher against Florida except left wing Reilly Smith.

And they added additional pieces at this year’s trade deadline in defenseman Noah Hanifin, right wing Anthony Mantha and center Tomas Hertl.

“It’s something they want to do,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “They want the opportunity to repeat as Stanley Cup champions.”

The Knights are hoping the adversity they faced throughout the season steels them for another run.

Last year they had to weather Stone’s back injury and setbacks in net that caused them to start a franchise-record five goaltenders. They were without Stone down the stretch again this year after he suffered a lacerated spleen. The Knights were also missing several of their other best players for significant stretches like center Jack Eichel and defensemen Shea Theodore and Alex Pietrangelo.

“Last year, even through a lot of adversity, I think that helped us come playoff time and down the stretch,” McNabb said. “I believe adversity this year is going to help. We had injuries, we had some problems in our game and I think we played really well at times.”

The path ahead of the Knights is different than the one they walked before.

They were the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference last season. They’ll need to do the bulk of their winning on the road this time.

That doesn’t mean they can’t do it. The Knights know it’s possible because they met the Panthers in the Final last season after Florida started out as the Eastern Conference’s No. 8 seed.

The chance to be a dynasty is in front of them. It’s up to the Knights to take it.

“I don’t think a lot of teams can match us if we find that consistency and play as a unit every night,” Karlsson said. “We have to be aware that we’re going to have to work for it and work our ass off every single game.”

Contact Danny Webster at dwebster@reviewjournal.com. Follow @DannyWebster21 on X.

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