- Ryan S. Clark is an NHL reporter for ESPN.
LAS VEGAS — Although Tuesday will mark the first time the Vegas Golden Knights can clinch a Stanley Cup, they have a few players on their roster who’ve been in the position before.
The message from those players is simple: Stay focused on the end goal while enjoying the pressure that comes with it all.
Vegas has a chance to win the first Stanley Cup title in its six-year existence Tuesday when it hosts the Florida Panthers at T-Mobile Arena. Although this is the Golden Knights’ second Cup Final, this is the first time they have been in position to win a championship; they lost in five games to the Washington Capitals in 2018.
“Having a few guys who have been here before, it certainly helps,” said Golden Knights defenseman Alec Martinez, who won two Stanley Cups with the Los Angeles Kings. “It’s a focus mentality, somewhat of a calmness. Not trying to overreact or underreact, just trying to stay even-keel and focused on the end goal. … It’s human nature to try to get a little too emotionally high or low throughout an emotional series or playoff run like this. Experience certainly helps.
“But that said, the guys that haven’t been in this position, I think they’ve done a really good job of handling it. The only way to learn is to go through it.”
Martinez is one of several Golden Knights players who’ve won at least one Stanley Cup in their careers. Backup goaltender Jonathan Quick was teammates with Martinez when the Kings won the title in 2012 and 2014. Winger Phil Kessel, who has been used more in a reserve role this postseason, won consecutive Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017 with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Center Chandler Stephenson was part of the Capitals team that beat the Golden Knights in 2018 to win what was that organization’s first title. Ivan Barbashev and Alex Pietrangelo were part of the St. Louis Blues squad that won a Stanley Cup in 2019, then did it against the Boston Bruins, who were then coached by current Golden Knights coach Bruce Cassidy.
Pietrangelo said being a win away with a chance to clinch Tuesday has not led to any grand discussions within the team about what it means to be this close. He said the conversations actually have been about how everyone has invested so much time and energy into this season that they want to go all-in for one more game.
“You address it, but you don’t dwell on it,” Pietrangelo said. “I think we’ve played well in clinching games. Even against Dallas [in the Western Conference finals], you have to win that game to get to this situation. I thought we just pushed everything aside and played probably our best game of the playoffs. I think our group enjoys that pressure and enjoys those situations.”
Golden Knights forward Keegan Kolesar, who among the players who have not won a Stanley Cup, expanded on what Pietrangelo said about what was gained against the Stars in the West finals.
The Golden Knights took a 3-0 series lead before the Stars rallied to force a Game 6 at American Airlines Arena in Dallas. The Golden Knights responded with an emphatic 6-0 win that punched their ticket to the Stanley Cup Final in which their lone defeat has been a Game 3 overtime loss.
It’s what made Kolesar say that every series the Golden Knights have played has been valuable when it comes to learning what it means to close out a team.
“Right from Winnipeg [in the first round], we lost Game 1 of that, and we got a wake-up call, and we finished that off in four after that,” Kolesar said. “Edmonton — we had a grind of win a game, lose a game, win a game, lose a game. You have that back-and-forth battle. Then, in the Dallas series, we found ways to pull through when we were up 3-1 and they made it 3-2 and then we bounced back and had our best game and finished it off in six. So, I think in every series we’ve found a valuable lesson from every one of them on how to close out a series or how to bounce back in a series.”
Or, as Quick simply stated: Closing out a team can be difficult no matter whether it’s the first round or the Final.
“You just kind of go in with that same mentality that we’ve used prior,” Quick said. “You just rely on your team game, your commitment to defense and commitment to your structure, and you go from there.”
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