The Vegas Golden Knights are back in the Western Conference Final, where they’ve seemingly belonged since entering the league in 2017.
It marks the fourth time they’ve been in the NHL’s Final Four in six years.
Jonathan Marchessault scored a natural hat trick, and his original misfit linemates of William Karlsson and Reilly Smith added a goal apiece to lead the Golden Knights to a 5-2 win over the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday in Game 6.
Vegas will face Monday’s winner from Game 7 between Dallas and Seattle.
Since the 2018 postseason, the Golden Knights rank second in the NHL with 46 playoff wins, sandwiched between the last three Stanley Cup champions, Tampa Bay (61) and Colorado (43).
“We know against a team like that we needed 20 guys,” Marchessault said postgame on TV. “I’m just trying to give my team a chance to win and the beauty of our team is depth.”
True, but while Marchessault might catch the headlines on this night, for putting three in the net, goaltender Adin Hill deserves as much credit for keeping 38 shots out of it.
It’s probably why the team presented Hill with the game puck, and the Elvis wig and sunglasses.
He should be lauded as the “King of Vegas’ locker room” after stopping 38 straight saves. Hill allowed the Oilers to score on their first two shots and was perfect over the final 57 minutes and 17 seconds.
“It’s a hard thing you have to do with your whole life growing up as a goalie,” Hill told Sportsnet allowing the first shots he saw hit the net. “You battle it out where the first shot goes in or whatever, it’s just on to the next one. You focus on the next one, you can’t do anything about what just happened. You just gotta put it behind you and move on.”
Sort of like what he did two nights back in Las Vegas, where the Oilers carried a five-minute major power play into the third period of Game 5, scored once, and was stymied from that point forward.
In five appearances in the Edmonton series, Hill finished 3-1 with a 2.19 goals-against average and .934 save percentage on 136 shots faced.
Look, I said it after Game 3 of the opening-round series against Winnipeg, and I’ll say it again: this group is extremely reminiscent of the one that went to the Stanley Cup Final five years ago.
That team found ways to win, and this team is finding ways to win.
Out of 22 skaters who have hit the ice during the postseason for Vegas, 19 of them have registered at least one point, including 13 with at least one goal.
Then there’s the goaltending situation. Coach Bruce Cassidy had to make a decision down the stretch, knowing his All-Star goalie Logan Thompson was on the shelf, and he turned to Laurent Brossoit.
After Brossoit was hurt in the first period of Game 3, it’s been Hill’s net and he’s been outstanding for the most part.
The difference between “the little franchise that could” in 2018, and “the major franchise that should” in 2023, is this year’s version has been built to win.
Marchessault, Smith and Karlsson are remnants from the inaugural team. Still, they’re now key components of a blockbuster roster that couldn’t care less about the hype that surrounded a Vezina finalist like Connor Hellebuyck in the first round, or a Hart finalist like Connor McDavid in the second round.
The Golden Knights deserve more respect than the experts have given them, and they’re showing us why.
There is a reason they’re the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, and were the highest remaining seed after the Boston Bruins bowed out in the opening round.
“The first year was unbelievable, we were a good team and we had such great chemistry,” Marchessault said. “This year it’s been really special. Obviously, we have a good team on tice, but the fun we have off the ice is unbelievable.
“We have the mentality this year of the next-man-in and it doesn’t matter if it’s a goalie or D or forward.”
And, it doesn’t matter who this team faces next, the Golden Knights have been built to win, and know they’re back where they belong.