Thursday marks the rematch between last year's Stanley Cup Final participants: the Vegas Golden Knights and the Florida Panthers. It wasn't your typical Stanley Cup Final, for these were two teams in non-traditional hockey markets. I mean, Las Vegas and metropolitan Miami? Warm weather cities? That would make a hockey purist's head explode!
But that's what happened, with Vegas winning the Stanley Cup, 4-1. It was a mixture of Adin Hill's heroics and delicious home cooking that did the job for the Golden Knights. The upstart Panthers were no match as their Cinderella run came to an abrupt end.
It was a fulfilled promise from owner Bill Foley as well, guaranteeing the Vegas Golden Knights would win in their first six years. The process was complete, with a 9-3 victory in Game 5 sealing the deal.
For Golden Knight fans, there are certain games that highlight when the Stanley Cup was a foregone conclusion. Such a game would mark a seismic shift in momentum, putting Vegas on the fast track to their first Stanley Cup.
For myself, that happened on June 10, 2023, which happened to be Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals. It marked a huge road victory for the black and gold, giving them significant momentum towards bringing a title to Sin City. Where was I and how did it go down?
1. Where I Was
My family was in town, visiting me and my brother. They were staying at this lowkey beautiful hotel called the English Hotel near Fremont Street, which had an excellent pool and proximity to the Arts District. On top of that, there was a fine dining restaurant at the hotel.
We had dinner with the family of my brother's girlfriend, who wanted to meet us for some fusion-style meals. My family talked about how some bonds were saved for me from my family, ending with our great-grandmother and great-grandfather Arndt (right into the retirement account!). While the setting was certainly upper-class, there was one problem: where could you watch the Vegas Golden Knights play in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals?
In case you're wondering: Yes, I did wear my Marc-Andre Fleury jersey to the dinner. It was a means to show support for the Golden Knights, despite the former Vezina winner not being on the team anymore. So why not show the local team some love?
Still, you did what you could to support your guys and see how they did. That meant quickly checking your phone to see the score. Otherwise, my parents would've called me out angrily for being a poor guest if I was caught.
Sometimes, the conversation would turn to me. How was my job at the animal shelter? How was life in Henderson? I would promptly answer these questions, doing what I could to not leave too many details out. After all, I wasn't exactly dressed for such a fine restaurant. Therefore, I had to be on my best behavior.
2. The Game Itself
Of course, these questions were conveniently asked during the chaos of the third period. The problem was Vegas was locked in a tight battle with Florida in Game 4. The Golden Knights jumped out to an early 3-0 lead that game, led by Chandler Stephenson's two goals. However, the Panthers clawed back thanks to the dynamic duo of Aleksander Barkov and Brandon Montour.
The game before, Vegas gave up a game-tying goal to Matthew Tkachuk late in the third period. Carter Verhaeage finished the job in overtime, putting the Panthers back in the series. Would we see deja vu in Game 4?
Although the stats show the Florida Panthers racking up 28 penalty minutes (most of which were at the end of the game), they were a desperate team. They generated immense offensive pressure, led by Florida's aggressive top line.
Still, Adin Hill and company persevered, taking Game 4 for the 3-1 lead. After this, the Vegas Golden Knights were heading back to T-Mobile Arena, where the Stanley Cup awaited their arrival. I grunted so loud at that dinner that everyone wondered if I was alright. I replied, "yes" and joked that I had their full attention now.
That was also when the momentum swung to the Golden Knights. With Tkachuk and Montour assessed misconduct penalties, the Florida Panthers were rattled. There was no way they'd recover from this, especially after their best players were taken out of the equation.
3. The Result
That's exactly what happened in Game 5, with Vegas blowing the doors off of Florida, 9-3. Led by Mark Stone's hat trick and Jack Eichel's three assists, Sin City finally had a professional champion they could call their own.
That Game 4 was a clear indicator the Stanley Cup was heading to Las Vegas. It was the moment the Panthers went full "Florida Man," losing their composure along the way. There was no sight of an injured Matthew Tkachuk in Game 5 either, making this a foregone conclusion from the get-go. To me, Game 5 was a gimme for the Golden Knights.
Fans may point at other key moments of Vegas's Stanley Cup run. Whether that's Adin Hill's drastic save in Game 1 or the Golden Knights figuring out Sergei Bobrovsky, fans have their own stories of when the momentum shifted.
But for me, it was the most unusual time when that happened. I was at a dinner with my family with no access to the game. You couldn't have drawn it up any better. The unusual hockey markets had their Stanley Cup Final, with the Vegas Golden Knights winning it all.
Many Golden Knight fans will have that in the back of their minds come Thursday. They'll recall a moment when the shift changed to becoming the Stanley Cup champion. For all, it'll be the best recollection of their lives, hoping for more magic on Thursday.
(Stats provided by hockeyreference.com)