DALLAS — The Vegas Golden Knights will face the Florida Panthers for the Stanley Cup after eliminating, and absolutely dominating, the Dallas Stars in a 6-0 victory on Monday night in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals.
Vegas will host Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Saturday night.
The NHL is guaranteed to have a franchise win its first ever Stanley Cup this postseason. It’s the second trip to the Stanley Cup Final for both franchises, as the Knights played for the Cup in 2018 and the Panthers back in 1996.
“The first trip was just kind of overwhelming. You’ve never been there before. Maybe you took it for granted a little bit back then,” Vegas center William Karlsson, one of six players from that Stanley Cup run in the franchise’s inaugural season, said. “Five years later, there’s been ups and downs. You realize that this opportunity doesn’t come around too often.”
Karlsson scored twice and goalie Adin Hill made 23 saves in the Game 6 win, one of the more lopsided games of the 2023 playoffs.
The Stars were eliminated after trailing the series 3-0 and rallying for two wins. Teams that take a three-games-to-none lead in the Stanley Cup playoffs now have an all-time series record of 202-4. Teams that hold that lead in the round before the Cup Final are now 48-0 all-time, with both the Golden Knights and Panthers adding to that total in their respective conference finals.
“This was a great opportunity. It was. It takes a big effort to get here and guys gave everything they had. It definitely hurts. You always think there’s something else out there for you, something more you can do. But we came up short,” Stars center Joe Pavelski said.
Dallas coach Pete DeBoer said his team expended more energy leading up to Game 6 than its opponents had.
“I think Vegas went to another level and maybe one too many nights of us going to the well in an elimination game. That was our fourth. Vegas hasn’t played one yet,” DeBoer said. “Every time you go into an elimination game, it takes a toll physically and mentally. It’s hard to fill that tank over and over again. I didn’t think there was a lot left tonight.”
Vegas was frustrated after allowing the Stars back into the series with two straight losses and vowed to come out in Game 6 with a better effort. The team had a meeting after Game 5 in which players and coaches aired their concerns about their play and discussed the where the team’s killer instinct had gone.
“We had a little honest conversation about that last night, about what’s in front of us. It’s OK to dream a little bit once we get that fourth one. We talked about what prevented them from doing it in previous years. We talked openly about it,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “I thought we did a really good job handing those conversations and getting back to work. To a man, they all brought their ‘A’ game.”
Game 6 started with a blistering pace with the teams trading chances. Vegas was able to quiet the home crowd by striking first. Forward Keegan Kolesar won a battle near the end boards, with the puck slowly sliding out to the slot. That’s where William Carrier found it and patiently waited out goaltender Jake Oettinger (23 saves) for his second goal of the playoffs at 3:41. That marked the third straight game in Dallas in which the Knights took a lead within the first five minutes of the game.
The Knights made it 2-0 at 10:25 of the first period on a power-play goal from Karlsson. Stars defenseman Esa Lindell was whistled for delay of game but earned some style points for knocking the puck out of midair over the glass before it could bounce into an open net behind Oettinger. Reilly Smith‘s pass was deflected by Nicolas Roy over to Karlsson, whose shot from the left side beat Oettinger.
Kolesar made it 3-0 thanks to another strong play from the Vegas fourth line. Kolesar flipped the puck off the boards to Carrier as he entered the Dallas zone. Kolesar sprinted past a spinning Lindell and Carrier found him alone in front of Oettinger for a quick shot. Kolesar’s second goal of the postseason came at the 14-minute mark, leaving the Stars’ home building in stunned silence and Dallas coach Peter DeBoer staring at his bench, arms crossed.
“At the end of the day, you expect that we could be better in those situations and not let it get to that point. I think we, as a group, take some of that blame. Give them credit. They were ready to play. They were hungry,” Pavelski said.
Just like in Game 3, the Golden Knights built a 3-0 lead on the road in the first period.
“We’ve been good on the road and we wanted a good start, especially after our past two games. And we did that. After the first period, we’re up 3-0 and we weren’t satisfied. We wanted more,” Knights forward Jonathan Marchessault said. “I think that’s the mentality that we’ve had a lot (this season). And it’s been good for us.”
The Stars got to their game a little better in the second, earning a power play just 4:03 into the period, but were unable to impact the scoreboard. Then at 10:25 of the second, Ivan Barbashev met a streaking Marchessault, who slid the puck through Oettinger for a 4-0 Vegas lead.
Karlsson struck again at 2:06 of the third period, his 10th goal of the playoffs. Michael Amadio scored his third of the playoffs at 12:25 of the third as the rout continued.
Dallas entered the game with the momentum of two straight victories and the return of captain Jamie Benn, who was suspended after Game 3 for cross-checking Vegas forward Stone in the face. The Stars rallied around the concept of extending the series long enough to have Benn return to the playoffs. They finished the series 0-4 with Benn in the lineup.
For the Golden Knights, who finished atop the Western Conference with 111 points, the trip to the Final comes after the team used five different goaltenders this season, after last season’s starter, Robin Lehner, had offseason surgery.
Laurent Brossoit started all five games of their series win over the Winnipeg Jets and the first three games of their series win over Edmonton. He suffered a lower-body injury in Game 3, leading to the 27-year-old Hill taking over as the starter.
Hill posted two shutouts in the conference finals, in Game 3 and Game 6 at Dallas.
After the game, Hill and his teammates surrounded the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl, awarded to the winner of the Western Conference championship. Every postseason, there are discussions about the superstitions surrounding the touching of the conference trophies and how that impacts a team’s Stanley Cup fortunes. The Florida Panthers touched their trophy. The Golden Knights did not.
Marchessault could be heard on the ice encouraging his teammates not to touch the Campbell Bowl. The Knights touched the trophy in 2018 and lost to the Washington Capitals in the Stanley Cup Final.
“It’s just one of those things where it didn’t work out for us the first year, right,” Marchessault asked. “So, we’re back here and we want to do things different. The one that we want to touch is four wins away.”
According to ESPN Stats & Information research, each of the last four head-to-head touch vs no-touch Cup Final series has been won by the team who touched the conference title trophy. Regardless, the betting world favors the home team … at least for now. Not long after the shutout, Caesars installed Vegas as a -130 favorite to win the series.