It always begins with the fourth line, doesn’t it?
Trust is built over time, but Bruce Cassidy in his first year as coach of the Golden Knights made it clear from the outset his was going to be a four-line team.
Not sure he really envisioned it working out this well.
The Knights open the Stanley Cup Final against the Florida Panthers on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena, where the depth of the home team could undoubtedly play a huge part in which side emerges the winner in the best-of-seven series.
Cassidy said it was a goal from day one to feature a fourth line with value, something that has transpired no matter the names playing along it. With the likes of Will Carrier and Nicolas Roy and Keegan Kolesar impacting the game in different ways, the trust factor grows.
And that’s no different for anyone else.
“I don’t know if there was one moment where Bruce sort of felt that comfort in having anybody out there, but you build that trust over the course of a season,” top line center Jack Eichel said. “The more games you play, the more situations you’re in, the more success you have, that trust continues to build.”
He’s right. Winning helps. A lot.
Cassidy had to first understand his players and they him, a coach whose defensive structure was perhaps the biggest part of a learning curve for the Knights. But once things became more comfortable within it, consistent success followed.
Rolling four lines. Not — for the most part — chasing matchups. Cassidy believed in his team and its ability up and down the lineup. He has ridden it to within four wins of the ultimate prize. It has been a process.
“I think that’s how you arrive here unless you’ve got top-end talent,” he said. “But we beat a team in (Edmonton) with top-end talent. Maybe it’s an argument for how we’ve done things.”
Six players remain from an expansion team that also made the Stanley Cup Final, and it’s a room with several championship rings. But for as much as those on the ice want to win their first title or add to those already secured, it’s no different for Cassidy.
He was the coach of a Boston team that advanced to the Stanley Cup Final in 2019, falling to St. Louis in seven games. The hunger, desire, fire remain in him to win it all.
Now, he’ll try to do so with a team of which he has developed a great amount of confidence.
“I hope I learned something,” Cassidy said. “You learn how to manage your time, the ups and downs of the Final. Everybody is there. It’s outside influences as well as the hockey people. Those are the things you have to manage.
“We should use our advantage with the guys we have who have been there and know what it’s about. We have to make sure we tap into that. This is why we play. You learn to enjoy the moment. I learned getting 16 (playoff wins) isn’t easy — 15 isn’t good enough.”
Maybe things are different this time. If so, it will be a team effort. That’s how the Knights have reached this point in the postseason, how a bond has developed between a coach and his players. There is a belief on both sides.
“It has been a built relationship, a long one over time, with a coach who’s pretty honest about everything,” forward Jonathan Marchessault said. “He’ll give you an honest opinion of what he thinks, and look where we are right now.
“I don’t like working around corners. Just give us the straight truth. That’s how he is. That’s how I am. I normally make my message pretty clear, and so does he, so things have been good.”
There’s a word for that: trust.
Bruce Cassidy and his team appear to share a large chunk of it with each other.
Hey, there are (much) worse fates.
Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.