The Stanley Cup dream is over for the Vegas Golden Knights.
This year was meant to be the year that the Vegas Golden Knights made history by winning a first championship in franchise history just three years after entering the National Hockey League.
Instead, they blew a two-goal lead in a Game 5 they had to win and ended up losing in Overtime to the Dallas Stars, who were crowned Kings of the Western Conference.
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However, as was the case all series long, the offense soon dried up and that gave the Stars a route back into the game.
And, in heartbreaking fashion, Joel Kiviranta made it a tied game with a power play goal in the final minutes of the third period, before disaster struck in Overtime.
Rookie defenseman Zach Whitecloud, who really blossomed and emerged as a key piece of this Vegas defense under the guidance of DeBoer, was sent to the box for Delay of Game.
And, in what was a brutal way to end what had rapidly become a brutal series, Denis Gurianov popped up with the game-winner on the resulting power play at 3:36 in OT to send Dallas through to the Stanley Cup Final and eliminate the Golden Knights.
Whitecloud was crestfallen in the wake of that heartbreaker and, as forward Reilly Smith put it, it was a “shitty situation” for the young defenseman who wasn’t to blame for the loss or Vegas’ premature postseason exit.
Absolved from blame also was goalie Robin Lehner who made 23 saves on 26 shots and finished the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a 1.99 Goals Against Average and a .917 Save Percentage, in addition to four shutouts.
From the bottom of our hearts. For the endless support.
— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) September 15, 2020
You can, however, shift some blame over to Pete DeBoer who refused to budge from a system and style of play that clearly didn’t work against Dallas, while he was also guilty of failing to make adjustments at crucial moments in Game 5.
Blame can also be attributed to the abhorrent offense, which was meant to be the jewell of the crown of this built-to-win now roster.
But, despite boasting a star-studded top-six forward unit, the Golden Knights scored just eight goals in five games in the Western Conference.
That will be a huge concern going forward.
Some will also blame the front office for making some huge decisions that have seemingly altered the bright outlook in Sin City.
First, popular Head Coach Gerard Gallant was canned midway through the 2019-20 regular season despite leading the Knights to two consecutive postseason appearances.
Then there was the strange situation involving long-time Goalie Coach Dave Prior, who has made it clear that there was more to his departure from the organization than the front office originally made out.
And, finally, in what many fans deem as the worst decision of them all, face of the franchise Marc-Andre Fleury was clearly dumped in favor of Robin Lehner who is the undisputed starter in DeBoer’s eyes.
That led to that now infamous Tweet from Fleury’s longtime agent Allan Walsh and, while we may not know the true impact of that whole situation on the rest of the team, it is obvious that it is going to be a huge storyline going forward.
After all of that, there will be lots of questions to be answered in what will be an incredibly truncated off-season this year.
Of course, the autopsy of this extremely postseason exit will commence right away and we at Vegas Hockey Knight will be delving into a number of different topics over the coming days and weeks.
We will try to answer the burning questions that now face this franchise, including whether or not an ugly divorce between the Knights and Fleury is nigh.
Also, as much as some fans may not want to hear this, both DeBoer and Lehner seem destined to remain in Sin City but DeBoer in particular will have a lot of work to do this off-season.
All of that will come but, for now, all there is to do is to reflect on what was an incredibly frustrating and dispiriting end to what started out as a year with so much hope attached to it.
This was meant to be the year that the Golden Knights finally took that next step and won a Stanley Cup, shaking off the bitter disappointment of that First Round loss to the San Jose Sharks in 2018-19.
That’s why the events of last night sting so much.
While most third-year expansion teams would be over the moon with the resume that Vegas has put together, this team was built to win now.
They went all in by changing their coach and they then doubled down at the Trade Deadline by acquiring a pure rental in Lehner from the Chicago Blackhawks.
The front office made those moves with a view to holding a (virtual) parade down the strip, not to suffer three consecutive losses on the way to losing in five games in the Western Conference Final to a team they felt they should have beat.
Last night was hard to swallow as the Stanley Cup dream came to a bitter and crushing end, and now an off-season full of uncertainty, burning questions and perhaps landscape-altering decisions begins.