LAS VEGAS — Golden Knights players swayed and meandered past yellow streamers, pink plastic flamingos, and helmets and gloves raining down on them as they raced to intercept their goalie.
The record-setting crowd at T-Mobile Arena cheered the night as their team scored nine goals to win the Stanley Cup for the first time, and the city mastered party threw its biggest yet.
Most of the parties in Las Vegas, be it a private bachelorette party or huge celebrations filled with fireworks on the Strip on New Year’s Eve, are intended for the millions of tourists who visit this wonderful city. It was a Tuesday night for the people of Las Vegas, and what a party.
The Golden Knights were faster, stronger, and better in every aspect. They swept the Panthers on a forecheck, forced giveaways and delivered great play after amazing puck play on a 9-3 losing tone to end the stellar season.
Players celebrated with their friends and family on the ice afterwards, with kids running across the wet surface, kicking beach balls and flamingos like soccer balls. The children were either in the arms or sitting in the cup.
Captain Mark Stone, who scored the first hat-trick in a Stanley Cup-clinching game in over 100 years, looked on in awe and glee. When he came back from his second back surgery in less than nine months to make this playoff run he ran and said over and over, “I didn’t want to miss this.”
With the Stanley Cup in hand, it’s now clear why.
“That’s why, isn’t it?” he said with a smile. “That’s why I didn’t want to miss this. I just got a Stanley Cup with 30 of my best friends. Guys that I come to the rink and hang out with every single day. I love coming to the rink and that’s why. These guys make it all worth it” .
Stone lifted the cup first, pumping it high above his head during a long walk around the ice.
“It’s a moment I’ll never forget,” he said, “and it’s a moment I didn’t take lightly.” “I wanted to satiate it all. That’s the only time you want to be selfish in this game, do you want to binge on that lap, and that’s what I did.”
Stone handed it to Riley Smith, who handed it to Jonathan Marquessault. From there it went to William Carlson, Brayden McNab, Shea Theodore and finally William Carrier. It was a show of “Golden Misfits” taking turns with the trophy they’d been trying to bring to Las Vegas for six seasons.
“It means a lot to be able to do that with this group of guys,” said Smith, who scored the winning goal in the second half. “Obviously the team has changed a lot over six years, but our fan base hasn’t. It’s been so amazing. They’ve supported us from day one and it’s really cool to bring a championship to Las Vegas.”
Tuesday’s exclamation point at the end of this championship season was the result of the incredibly strong team the Golden Knights have built, but they haven’t forgotten who started it all. Coach Bruce Cassidy put together the starting lineup for players from the original team, a gesture they were deeply appreciated.
“It was very special,” McNab said. “It was such a great feeling, knowing he appreciated us. We wish we could have put Will (Carrier) in the net. The six of us misfits have a special bond and we value it. We are the champions, baby.”
While Stone, Jack Eichel, Alex Pietrangelo and others were all key pieces in this tournament, if it weren’t for the amazing run of the original team, these aggressive acquisitions would never have happened.
“They deserve it,” Pietrangelo said of these six. “We wouldn’t be here without them, would we? Starting things the right way. I’m just happy for these guys, five years later, to be able to win.”
Pietrangelo hugged as many people as he could on the ice after the game, in between arguing between his four children. This is his second Stanley Cup championship after leading the Blues to one just four years ago, and he hasn’t lost any of his luster.
“The kids are a little older now,” he said. “Now they understand what it’s all about, what Dad used to do. When you have a family, all you want to do is share it with them, so I’m going to enjoy this with them. It’s emotional. You guys know it’s been a hell of a year for us.”
In late November, Pietrangelo’s 4-year-old daughter Evelyn became seriously ill, causing her to lose her motor skills, forcing him to be out of work and hospitalized for weeks. Tuesday she ran around the ice holding an inflatable pink flamingo while her dad held up a cup.
“Six months ago, we’ve been in the hospital for a month in a row, and now she’s on the ice,” said Pietrangelo with glassy eyes. “If that doesn’t make you emotional… it gives me goosebumps.”
Carrier had as many as 25 family and friends celebrate with him on the ice. He wasn’t even sure how he felt.
“I don’t think you can describe it,” he said. “It took a lot of work, and it almost feels like the end of something. You’ve been working since you were 3 years old, so I don’t know where you go from here. I have to ask the players who won, how do you refocus and get back to work, because in Right now it feels like the end of something.”
Even late in the game, with half a dozen goals scored, the Golden Knights players still couldn’t relax.
“The guys were still nervous,” Carrier said. “We put up a nine, and I don’t think anyone got complacent. It was still nerve-wracking. We had San Jose in mind, where anything can happen.”
In the end, after extending the lead again in the dying moments, they realize they are on the verge of becoming champions.
“We’re sitting on the bench with three minutes left and we’re looking at each other,” Stone said. “We’re about to win the Stanley Cup.” That’s all I can think of. It’s a crazy feeling.”
All celebration on the ice was preceded by a massive exhalation. they did it.
“The last couple of days have been tense,” Carrier said. “Everyone plays it cool like no one else thought about it, but it was hard to sleep so it’s going to be amazing tonight.”
Many wondered if the window for the Golden Knights had closed when they missed the playoffs entirely last season. Players are grateful for the opportunity to often bring back the same deck and give it another chance. They rewarded management with the championship.
“Now that it’s all over,” he said, “you look back and that was the greatest two months of my life.” “It’s unbelievable.”
Owner Bill Foley, who gambled on Las Vegas as a sports city and declared his team would win the Cup in six years, took his victory lap. The 78-year-old billionaire lay on the ice with his players as they were photographed with the trophy.
At night, hours after the Golden Knights paraded their trophy around the ice, the goalie horn at the T-Mobile Arena was still blaring outside. Maybe they were trying to catch all the targets.
(Photo: Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
“Devoted travel trailblazer. Freelance beer scholar. Passionate analyst. Hardcore twitter fanatic.”