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Original Knights ‘Misfits’ say they learned from 1st trip to Stanley Cup Final

Updated May 31, 2023 - 11:06 am

Jonathan Marchessault said he was “pretty vocal” in the wake of the Golden Knights’ Western Conference championship Monday, which is a bit like water calling itself wet.

But the Knights right wing had a purpose. He was adamant that the team shouldn’t touch the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl during the trophy presentation at American Airlines Center. The Knights did the first time they advanced to the Stanley Cup Final in 2018, then lost to the Washington Capitals in five games. Marchessault didn’t want a repeat.

Superstition aside, the action also served as a contrast between the two teams.

The 2018 Knights caught magic, doing things no one thought they could in their inaugural season. This team has dealt with expectations for years. These Knights are no longer just enjoying the ride. They have the end goal in their sights.

“Our team’s more mature than what we were that first year,” left wing William Carrier said. “This team wants to win, right? We’ll never be finished until we raise that Cup.”

The Knights have six players who serve as the connective tissue of their Western Conference-winning teams.

Carrier, Marchessault, center William Karlsson and left wing Reilly Smith are still around up front. Defensemen Brayden McNabb and Shea Theodore remain on the back end as the team’s second pair.

All are still key contributors to the Knights’ success.

Karlsson and Marchessault are first and second on the club in playoff goals with 10 and nine, respectively. Smith has 11 points this postseason, and Carrier scored twice in the Western Conference Final against the Dallas Stars, including the team’s first goal in Monday’s series-clinching 6-0 victory.

The Knights are plus-6 when Theodore is on the ice at five-on-five and plus-4 with McNabb.

This season’s group has still evolved from 2018, when the team went 12-3 through three rounds against Los Angeles, San Jose and Winnipeg. These Knights are more battled scarred. They’re no longer the plucky expansion darlings making an incredible run. They’ve proven to be one of the NHL’s top dogs, with their 50 playoff wins ranking second to Tampa Bay (61) since they entered the league.

The only thing missing is a large silver chalice. The Knights weren’t able to re-create the success of 2018 immediately, losing in the first round to San Jose in 2019 and in semifinal series to Dallas in 2020 and Montreal in 2021. They missed the playoffs for the first time in franchise history last season.

“That was the goal since year one,” Marchessault said. “To come back here. Since the beginning of the season, too, we knew we had a good team.”

The only thing the Knights have left to do is go one step further than they did before.

They won Game 1 in 2018 against the Capitals, then lost four straight. Marchessault said the team made the mistake of looking ahead. Of dreaming about what could be. He said that won’t happen when the series against the Florida Panthers starts Saturday at T-Mobile Arena.

Marchessault said the Panthers remind him in some ways of the 2018 Knights. They’ve defied all expectations, going from the last seed of the playoffs to the Stanley Cup Final. Florida even picked up the Prince of Wales Trophy and carried it around FLA Live Arena after sweeping the Carolina Hurricanes.

The Knights have a different mindset. They want to finish the job this time.

“That first year was just kind of a whirlwind,” Karlsson said. “You’ve never been there before. Everything was just kind of flowing. I don’t know, maybe you took it for granted a little bit back then. Now, what is it, it’s five, six years later. There’s been ups and downs, and you realize this opportunity doesn’t come around too often.”

Contact Ben Gotz at bgotz@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BenSGotz on Twitter.

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