And the Stanley Cup champ is...

Marc Elliott

MORGAN PARK – It's late Sunday night and the 2023 Stanley Cup tournament is down to perhaps its last game of this season. After last night's 3-2 win by the Vegas Golden Knights against the Florida Panthers in Sunrise, Florida, Vegas holds a 3-1 game lead in the series with G5 coming up Tuesday eve back in Vegas. The most hallowed and vaunted trophy in the sporting world will be in the building.

Vegas swept games one and two on home ice in Vegas (5-2 & 7-2) before heading for the Sunshine State. In G3 the Cats finally got a little of their playoff mojo back in a dramatic 3-2 OT win. The Cats were a mere two minutes away from going down to an inescapable 0-3 deficit when Matt Tzachuk tied the game with a shot from the very top of the crease to knot the tilt at two. 4:27 into the extra frame Carter Verhaeghe scored on a bit of a seeing eye shot that eluded Knights tender Adin Hill and it appeared that the Cats had new life breathed into them.

But hockey reality came to visit the Cats last night and the VGK put a strong performance on the ice in an epic 3-2 win in regulation time to go up 3 to 1 in the series, thus placing themselves on the doorstep to their franchises first Cup win ever, and that after only its sixth season in existence. Before the Final even began I was on the Cats bandwagon and felt they had the momentum going for them to prevail in the series and win their first Cup ever.

The Golden Knights had other ideas. I was even going against my normal train of thought in never picking the younger and less experienced team. I've just seen this unfold too many times in my years of viewing. It simply takes a club years to achieve it and that means having a team that has had the bulk of the same roster intact for multiple seasons with a chronological progression toward the ultimate goal.

I've stated this before and I'll go to it again, in the hockey documentary The Russian Five the film chronicles the journey of the Detroit Red Wings and how many seasons of utter disappointment they endured before finally getting the big prize. It is that hard. In pro hockey there are some subtleties of the game that a team can't get on top of in a single season. It takes time and seasoning to build a champion in this sport. I went against that with my choice of who I thought would prevail and it is likely going to turn out wrong.

At the time FLA had a huge amount of momentum in its favor. Their goalie Sergei Bobrovsky had basically turned himself into a brick wall in front of the Panther's net and was controlling play in their games. The team was getting timely scoring and moreover, huge goals when they needed them the most. Even now, they are at 7-0 in OT games during this playoff year.

The NHL league record is 10 games, held by the Montreal Canadiens from the 1993 tournament. They beat the LA Kings in a five-game classic with games two, three and four extending to OT. I recall that tourney quite well. As a young 7-year-old boy I saw my first televised game in 1961. It was a Sunday afternoon matinee between the Canadiens and the Chicago Blackhawks. And yes, every big star of that era was in the lineup that day.

My boyhood idol Henri "the Pocket Rocket" Richard, Jean Beliveau, Boom Boom Geoffrion, Jacques Plante, Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, Moose Vasko, Glenn Hall and many more graced the frozen sheet that day. I was hooked and began playing shortly thereafter. That began a lifelong love of the game that is stronger than ever and the "Habs" are still one of my three favorite teams. So on that early June night in 1993 I sat in my Larsmont living room with my rocking chair facing the TV set.

My late father and my mom were visiting from the Twin Cities and it was a perfect North Shore evening. With the windows up and the fireplace stoked I could hear some small waves hitting the rocks outside. Inside my dad and I had just had some post-dinner coffee and were ready to view the game. If the previous three tilts were so closely contended that they all required OT, the Habs pretty much had G5 under control for the majority of the game and would close it out in a 4-1 Cup-clinching victory. When the clock hit 00:00 I let out quite a victory yell! I would joke later that a friend from Lester Park had called to check on me stating that he heard my yell from all the way down the lake!

For this Cup year and considering the Cats need to win the next three games to hoist it, the Habs OT win record is probably safe for now. The exciting run by the Panthers seems like it will end soon but that can't diminish what they have achieved. Their playoff run has captured the imagination of their own fans along with hockey and sports fans from all over.

And BTW, in the '93 tourney the LAK had some guy named Gretzky on the roster. I've heard he was pretty good. By the time this edition of the Reader comes out it may very well be that the vaunted silver chalice has been won, presented and hoisted along with having had many different adult beverages consumed from it. B

ut maybe the Cats have one more game in them, maybe not. I don't think that is likely. I feel the VGK have established themselves as the better team here. Even in the G3 loss in Sunrise the Knights played the superior game. In my opinion they set the series up for themselves when they ignored the antagonism and intimidation tactic the Cats tried to use late in G1.

And then to my surprise the Cats came out for G2 and tried to play most of the game in the same manner. Vegas wasn't having it. They engaged but declined to make that their prevalent playing style. The Cats didn't move off of the failed strategy fast enough to save the series.

Overall Vegas is the better team at playing the game. They have two players who, if they had to, would prevail in any hockey fight against anyone on the Panthers, and there were just too many factors in their favor. The Cats were the flies to Vegas' fly swatter.

The question will be asked as to whether the Cat's nine-day break between series hurt them. In the end I believe that Vegas is just the better team. Who wins the Conn Smythe Trophy? I think it is down to Knights tender Adin Hill or forward Jonathan Marchessault. And for the simple reason that goalies don't win it that often, I believe that Hill gets the nod here. He will be a free agent this offseason and will get a big raise! A Cup one week and a big contract the next! PEACE