The Golden Knights continue their winning streak by dropping the Oilers in Game 6

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Stamped as underdogs and underdogs as members of an expansion team, their unlikely 2018 Stanley Cup Finals was a feel-good story for the ages.

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It apparently felt so good while it lasted that the Vegas Golden Knights try to rewrite the ending almost every spring. They may even be able to avenge their Cup final defeat by Washington this year, especially if the seven original outsiders still in the squad continue to rise.

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The Knights added the Oilers to their growing list of playoff casualties with a masterful 5-2 win in Game 6 at Rogers Place on Sunday, and each of the goals in Vegas was scored by an original outsider. Reilly Smith netted Oiler goalie Stuart Skinner on the Knights’ first shot; Jonathan Marchessault scored a natural hat-trick in the second period to strangle the game and series and William Karlsson allowed himself a break by limiting Connor McDavid’s time and space to deliver the empty net that sealed the decision.

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“It’s a pretty cool feeling that we, the original underdogs, get to score some goals,” said Karlsson. “We’re still going full throttle and we’re still very proud to wear this jersey and it feels great to get through this with this team.”

It was a picture-perfect Vegas win, hard-fought with better five-a-side hockey structure than the opposition could muster. This is the way of the knights, their happy place. The referees could hardly pull the whistles out of their pockets; This helps silence the Oilers’ powerful power play while also giving Vegas a better chance to play their disciplined puck possession game.

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But Vegas still had to score and Marchessault was up to the task again. The goals were his third, fourth and fifth in that series.

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“Every night we all try to play properly out here,” said the 32-year-old. “Sometimes you are rewarded. One night it’s one guy, one night it’s another. That’s the mentality we have this year: just bring in the next man and move on. … It’s been a really incredible season so far, but our main goal is two more rounds of this kind. I’m definitely happy for these two guys (Smith and Karlsson) that they scored a few goals and got past a pretty great team .”

Edmonton Oilers' Ryan Nugent-Hopkins #93, Darnell Nurse #25 and Jack Campbell #36 defend the net in the third period against the Las Vegas Golden Knights in game six of the second round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs on May 14, 2023 at the Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
Edmonton Oilers’ Ryan Nugent-Hopkins #93, Darnell Nurse #25 and Jack Campbell #36 defend the net in the third period against the Las Vegas Golden Knights in game six of the second round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs on May 14, 2023 at the Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Photo by Lawrence Scott /Getty Images

While so much conversation focused on the greatest parts of this team — McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, individual talents the Knights just can’t match — Vegas was still the better team. They had their own players who shone, goalkeeper Adin Hill, certainly Marchessault and Jack Eichel who got better and better as the series progressed. In fact, head coach Bruce Cassidy gushed about Acorn’s game several times during the series, and on Sunday he turned a question about Acorn’s game into a full-blown account of how the Knights needed to beat Edmonton.

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“The guy wants to win. He wants to be part of a successful team and culture, and he does. He’s doing his part,” Cassidy said. “He’s not required to carry the team on his back. Nobody is on our team.

“And I think that was part of the story here. The team that plays the best usually wins. Now it’s debatable who played better, but we feel that our team surpassed their team. It wasn’t about that player versus that player or that goalie versus that goalie. And Jack was part of it. He has to be one of those guys that plays well, him and (Mark Stone) and (Chandler Stephenson), guys that we rely on and now Adin Hill too. And we got that.

“I thought (Alex) Pietrangelo would be very good for us. He was obviously suspended but played well for us. Nic Hague and (Zach) Whitecloud were maybe ahead of (Edmonton) fifth and sixth defenders because they played in the league. Hopefully that makes us a better team because we use everyone. Again, there’s always room for debate, but so from the start we felt we had to play like the better team and we did that and Jack was a big part of that. Not the whole part, but a big part.”

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Marchessault was a big part, but not the whole part. He went to the net to sink the first two pucks and then shot the third out of the circle.

“That’s what scorers do. They land in the right places, stay on the net and then you get your chances,” said Karlsson. “Also he showed he still has a pretty good wrist so kudos to him. He’s a great game time player. It was a good game to score a hat trick.”

Hill came on as a substitute in Game 3 to replace injured starter Laurent Brossoit and kept clean to secure the win. Then he was instrumental in the victories in Game 5 and again on Sunday, even if things didn’t look good at the beginning. He conceded on the Oilers’ first two shots in games 6 and slammed the door on the next 39.

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“He’s strengthened, and you can’t progress without that,” Cassidy said. “You need a goalkeeper and it was a good story for us this year, no matter who went in there. Good for Adin. He’s a guy who wants to establish himself permanently in the league. Opportunity comes and he was ready. That’s the part that impresses me. He was ready to play and compete in a really difficult atmosphere against the top scoring team in the National Hockey League. And he was ready.”

He definitely got ready in a hurry on Sunday. The Oilers showered him with 15 shots in the first frame, 13 in the second, and another 13 in the last frame as their desperation grew. But he was, as Cassidy said, a wall. He made all the saves he was supposed to make and then some. And he got a lot of running support again.

“We value defense and we talked about that at training camp,” Cassidy said. “You have to score. It’s not the old NHL where it’s 2-1 or 3-2. You have to score to win, but defense is key and we’ve built in how we want to do that. I owe it to the guys for believing in that and they’ve been trying to play like that all year.”

As a reward, they get to play like this for at least one more series.


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