NHL playoffs: Golden Knights punch ticket to Stanley Cup Final with Game 6 blowout

It took a couple of tries, but the Vegas Golden Knights finally put the Dallas Stars out of their misery with a 6-0 thrashing in Game 6 of the West final.

The Golden Knights will take on the Panthers for all the marbles. (Getty)
The Golden Knights will take on the Panthers for all the marbles. (Getty)

For the second time in the young franchise's six-year history, the Golden Knights are off to the Stanley Cup Final.

Vegas came out like gangbusters in Game 6, scoring three times in the first 14 minutes of the contest and taking a 3-0 lead to the opening intermission as the Dallas crowd booed its team mercilessly. Vegas never looked back from there, filling the net three more times en route to a 6-0 victory.

William Karlsson scored twice for the Golden Knights, with William Carrier, Keegan Kolesar, Jonathan Marchessault and Michael Amadio adding singles for the Western Conference champs.

The game wasn't quite as lopsided as it looked on the scoreboard, with Vegas outshooting Dallas 29-23 and the Golden Knights blocking 11 more shots than the Stars. Adin Hill got the 23-save shutout for VGK, while Jake Oettinger was underwhelming in his 2023 playoff finale, allowing six goals on the 29 shots he faced.

For the Stars, the return of Jamie Benn in Game 6 bore painful similarities to his last appearance in the series, when Dallas’ night was basically over before the opening period was.

With the win, the Golden Knights will now receive a hearty break and plenty of time to prepare for the Panthers, who are 11-1 since falling down 3-1 to the Bruins in Round 1. Meanwhile, the Stars will pick up the pieces while pondering what’s next.

Vegas depth flourishes over Dallas’ with Benn back in Stars lineup

In Game 5, the Stars’ depth pulled off the rare feat of outdueling Vegas’ tremendous bottom-six. Entering Game 6, many might assume that a returning Jamie Benn would either allow the Stars to keep that up, or at least battle Vegas to a draw.

Not so much, particularly to start.

To an almost shocking degree, the Golden Knights absolutely smothered the Stars to start Game 6, taking their cue from role players (with the fourth line even taking the first shift of the contest). After plenty of pressure-related mishaps, William Carrier showed great patience to score the 1-0 goal.

All of that pressure forced Esa Lindell to chuck a puck over the glass, leading to a rare Golden Knights power-play goal.

Things were already dicey for Dallas once it was 2-0. The depth dominance continued on a beautiful coast-to-coast goal.

Behind the net, Alec Martinez began the play, setting up Keegan Kolesar to quickly transition to an entry by Carrier. Carrier then completed the give-and-go with a quick pass back to Kolesar, who beautifully scored that 3-0 tally.

Through the first period, Jamie Benn was on the ice for two goals allowed while losing the scoring chance (7-0) and high-danger chance (4-0) battles badly.

Glaringly, the Stars failed to generate a single high-danger chance in the second period as well. Goals by Jonathan Marchessault in the second period and William Karlsson in third erased even the slightest hint of a rally for the stunned Stars.

Adin Hill generated his second career playoff shutout (and his second of this series), merely needing to make 23 saves this time around.

Golden Knights’ run to the Stanley Cup Final gives Cassidy last laugh after Bruins firing

During the 2022 offseason, the Boston Bruins stunned the hockey world by firing Bruce Cassidy. Maybe even more stunningly, the Bruins didn’t just maintain their previous level of success when they replaced Cassidy with Jim Montgomery. Instead, the Bruins smashed previous NHL records for points and wins in a regular season. Montgomery ended up a Jack Adams finalist, while Don Sweeney’s up for GM of the Year after dismissing Cassidy. All of that Bruins success largely obscured Cassidy’s impressive first season as Golden Knights head coach, where he took a team that missed the playoffs in 2021-22 to the top of the West standings.

That situation was already fascinating in that both the Bruins and Cassidy thrived after parting ways.

Combine the Bruins falling in the first round with the Golden Knights advancing to the 2023 Stanley Cup Final, and you might argue that Bruce Cassidy got the last laugh at the Bruins.

Then again, maybe it’s more accurate to call it the “latest laugh.” After all, Cassidy and the Golden Knights now take on the very same Florida Panthers team that spoiled the Bruins’ season. Still, it’s dizzying to consider how the fates of Cassidy and the Bruins shifted over the past year.

The most pertinent truth is that everyone won, but what fun is that?

Golden Knights avoiding a Game 7 could mitigate Panthers’ rest advantage

The Florida Panthers completed their storybook sweep of the Carolina Hurricanes on May 24. Whatever happened out West, Florida knew it would travel for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Saturday, June 3.

However things played out, the Panthers were getting 10 days of rest (and maybe rust). The Golden Knights must breathe a sigh of relief that they bridged some of the “recovery” gap by ending the third round in Game 6 on Monday, rather than dealing with all of the nerves — not to mention blocked shots, bumps and bruises — that could have come from a Game 7.

Panthers head coach Paul Maurice admitted that Florida could end up “a little bit rusty in certain aspects, but we’ll be ready to play.” It’s anyone’s guess (and, really, a subjective matter anyway) who might be rusty. Most pressingly, you wonder if a red-hot Sergei Bobrovsky may cool off with such a break. Conversely, the 34-year-old may very well have been desperate for the rest.

But which Golden Knights players likely benefit the most from avoiding a Game 7, and thus getting to rest between Monday’s Game 6 and Saturday’s Game 1? A few come to mind.

Mark Stone: At 31 years old, Stone is already no “spring chicken.” He just completed his 90th career playoff game, but it’s no secret he’s coming off of recent back surgery, something opponents targeted. A little bit of rest could go a long way, especially since the Panthers have the sort of players (Radko Gudas, Matthew Tkachuk, etc.,) who may take advantage of opportunities to give Stone an extra shot or three.

Their defense, headlined by Alex Pietrangelo: Before Game 6, the Golden Knights featured just one of the 15 players who’ve logged at least 350 minutes in these playoffs — Pietrangelo. As deep as the Golden Knights are, they’re still asking 33-year-old Pietrangelo to play almost 24 minutes per game. While not every key Vegas defenseman is above 30 years old (see: 27-year-old Shea Theodore), the Golden Knights also feature Brayden McNabb (32) and Alec Martinez (35).

With the way the Panthers punish opponents, particularly defensemen, an extra couple nights of rest could be quite the luxury. Relatively fresh legs could come especially in handy if versatile Vegas opts for an up-tempo style rather than hoping to slow things down against Florida.

Bright future for the Stars, yet Golden Knights exposed some flaws

Browse Cap Friendly and similar sites for a while, then ask yourself a question. If you were handed the keys to a franchise — not just considering the talent on the roster, but also the age of top players plus value of contracts — which team would you pick?

The Stars might not come in first, yet break things down for a while and you’ll realize that Dallas is absolutely in the running. It’s already rare to have so many elite players who are also in their prime ages (Jason Robertson, Miro Heiskanen, Jake Oettinger and Roope Hintz range from 23 to 26 years old). Then consider that no piece of that core makes more than $8.45 million per year — with some of them locked in for quite a few years — and it’s easy to picture this being the first of many trips deep into the playoffs.

However, this series exposed some issues beyond that wonderful core.

While the Stars became more versatile under Peter DeBoer’s tutelage and after making trade deadline improvements, their offense looked too top-heavy for most of that series against Vegas.

Some of that is just bounces. Wyatt Johnston created a bunch of chances, so him not scoring in this series feels closer to a lack of puck luck than cause for concern.

But those numbers do create some hesitation about investing too much in retaining Max Domi.

Most of all, though, Dallas needs to find some answers on defense beyond superstar Miro Heiskanen and rising star Thomas Harley. More and more, it seems like an offseason of changes needs to include a Ryan Suter buyout.

Even with improved results during the regular season, Benn and Seguin carrying a combined cost of $19.35M remains a limiting factor, too.

An optimist views this as merely the tip of the iceberg for a Stars team slated for regular contention. A more pessimistic viewpoint might weigh bad contracts to Suter and Mason Marchment, while wondering if management can hit the right buttons to support this high-level core with the help that can push it over the top.