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‘Our best game of the playoffs’: Golden Knights head to Stanley Cup Final

Updated May 29, 2023 - 10:11 pm

DALLAS — William Karlsson, Reilly Smith and Keegan Kolesar wrapped their arms around one another and jumped on the American Airlines Center ice.

The celebration continued as the Golden Knights — after not touching the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl — celebrated winning the Western Conference by belting Toto’s “Hold the Line” and donning gray hats and T-shirts.

A year after missing the playoffs for the first time in franchise history, the Knights are back in the Stanley Cup Final after defeating the Dallas Stars 6-0 Monday. They made sure to enjoy it.

A group that has been called “imperfect” by coach Bruce Cassidy continues to lean on its chemistry, depth and resilience to win games. It’s now four victories from making owner Bill Foley’s “Cup in six” prediction come true.

The Knights will play the Florida Panthers starting Saturday at T-Mobile Arena. They’re the eighth team in NHL history to play for the Cup twice in its first six years and only the third team since 2014 with multiple trips to the final.

“We had one goal at the start of the season,” captain Mark Stone said. “Get better every day, put ourselves in an opportunity to play for the Stanley Cup. Now, we have that chance.”

Dallas coach Pete DeBoer called the Knights’ performance in Game 6 a “perfect elimination game.”

The team was challenged by Cassidy to “get harder” in battles after the Stars’ forecheck helped them win two straight to make it a 3-2 series. The Knights got the message. Their forecheck was incredible. They outworked and outhustled a Stars team that got captain Jamie Benn back in the lineup after a two-game suspension, creating opportunity after opportunity while giving up almost nothing.

The Knights allowed three high-danger scoring chances in all situations, according to the website Natural Stat Trick. It was the fewest they’ve given up in any game this season.

“We kept them to the outside almost all night,” said goaltender Adin Hill, who had a 23-save shutout. “It was probably my easiest game of the playoffs.”

The Knights’ offense also was dominant. Left wing William Carrier, Karlsson and Kolesar put the team up 3-0 with six minutes left in the first period. The crowd — egged on by special appearances from Hall of Famer Brett Hull and wrestler Ric Flair — went from energetic to angry to apathetic.

The stands were so empty by the end of the third period it was easy to hear the Knights’ hoots and hollers from the bench.

Right wing Jonathan Marchessault added another goal in the second period, then Karlsson and right wing Michael Amadio tacked on two more in the third. That gave the Knights their largest win of the season and the second-largest in franchise history in the playoffs.

Every hallmark of the team’s game was on display.

The Knights’ depth made a difference with five players scoring goals and 10 recording at least a point. Every skater that appeared in the series got on the scoresheet.

The team’s chemistry showed not only in its celebrations but also in its commitment to one another. The Knights have embraced the mantra “it hurts to win” all postseason. They backed that up by blocking 23 shots, tied for their third-highest total of the playoffs.

The Knights’ effort ended with handshakes from DeBoer, their former coach, and a trophy presentation in the zone closest to their bench. They decided not to touch the trophy, unlike in 2018 when Deryk Engelland lifted it to the locker room.

The Knights have their eyes on a larger prize this season. Their inaugural season was full of magic, but ended in a five-game loss to the Washington Capitals. This team is more experienced, more battle-tested. It’s looking to finish the job this time.

“It was definitely our best game of the playoffs, and it came at the right time,” Cassidy said. “If we can bottle that going forward, we’ll be a tough team to beat.”

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

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