Knights' Jonathan Marchessault wins Conn Smythe as playoff MVP

LAS VEGAS -- In addition to being one of the Vegas Golden Knights' six "Original Misfits," Jonathan Marchessault can add another title to his name: Conn Smythe Trophy winner.

Marchessault, 32, was named most valuable player of the playoffs following the Golden Knights' commanding 9-3 Stanley Cup-clinching Game 5 victory Tuesday night against the Florida Panthers at T-Mobile Arena. Marchessault recorded an assist in the win, which gave the Golden Knights their first title in their six-year history.

"It's one of those things you work all your life for and right now, with what we accomplished with that team, I couldn't be more proud of our team," Marchessault said in an interview with NHL Network. "We've battled through all year, and I'm so happy for them right now."

Marchessault finished the postseason tied for first with 13 goals and ranked second with 25 points. His lone point in Game 5 was a secondary assist on the Nicolas Hague goal that gave the Golden Knights a 2-0 lead with more than six minutes remaining in the first. The assist gave Marchessault a short-lived lead atop the playoff points standings. He entered Game 5 tied for first in points with Dallas Stars forward Roope Hintz and Panthers forward Matthew Tkachuk with 24.

Marchessault's lead atop the points standing lasted one period. Golden Knights center Jack Eichel picked up the first of his three assists in the second period. Eichel's three-point effort saw him finish his first postseason campaign with a league-high 26 points.

"Marchy gets so hot, and he went on a heck of a run," Eichel said on the TNT broadcast. "So deserving of the Conn Smythe. I'm so happy for him. He's been here since the beginning."

Marchessault, who spent one season with the Panthers, was selected by the Golden Knights in the 2017 expansion draft. He's one of the six remaining players from the first team and has since become one of the cornerstones of a franchise that has reached the playoffs in all but one season.

His postseason surge was gradual. Marchessault, who scored 28 goals and 57 assists in the regular season, had two points -- both assists -- in the Golden Knights' opening series against the Winnipeg Jets. He started finding more offensive consistency when he scored five goals and eight points in the three Golden Knights victories that saw them close out the second round against the Oilers in six games.

After failing to score in the first game of the Western Conference finals against the Stars, Marchessault finished the playoffs on a 10-game points streak.

"I wasn't happy with my first-round production, but at the end of the day we find a way to win hockey games," Marchessault said at his postgame news conference. "There's a bunch of guys that stepped up at the right time. This year's playoffs, every round, there was somebody that stepped up. You don't get here by just one or two guys. It takes the full effort of the organization. It's something that we can really be proud of."

One of the looming questions facing the Golden Knights entering Game 5 -- aside from if they would clinch the Cup at home -- was centered around who would ultimately win the Conn Smythe.

Several players presented arguments. In addition to leading the league in points, Eichel gave the Golden Knights a top-line center who could drive offensive play while showing he could be trusted in defensive situations. He shrugged off any concerns or questions about being a first-time playoff participant by recording seven multipoint performances, with Game 5 being his third three-point outing.

Adin Hill initially started the playoffs on the bench backing up Laurent Brossoit. Once Brossoit suffered an injury in the second round, Hill took over. His performances made the Golden Knights' already formidable defensive approach even more challenging to play against, given Hill finished the playoffs first in save percentage, tied for first in shutouts and third in goals-against average and saves.

Everything about Mark Stone's shorthanded goal in the first period of Game 5 reinforced why he also made a case. Stone's two-way prowess allowed him to seemingly be everywhere at once and that's what happened when he gave the Golden Knights a 1-0 lead. He forced a turnover for a 2-on-1 chance he buried. Stone then scored two more to record a playoff hat trick that also further legitimized his case for the Conn Smythe with 24 points to tie Hintz and Tkachuk. His 11 goals were tied for third.

The value of two-way play was why William Karlsson became a bit of an underdog pick for the Conn Smythe. Karlsson entered Game 5 just two goals shy of being tied for first place. And while his goals have played a major role in Vegas' success, he has also been at the heart of forecheck that has found success against four of the five players who led the NHL in postseason points before the Cup Final. Of those players, Karlsson was part of the effort that kept four of them pointless for at least one game.

To know Vegas could rely on several players to win games was one of its strengths both in the regular season and in the postseason. It's the kind of depth that led it to a championship but also made it challenging to accurately judge who would be named playoff MVP.

In the end, it was Marchessault who walked away with the Conn Smythe.

"One night, it's one guy. One night, it's another guy," Marchessault said on the TNT broadcast. "That's the mentality we had this year. Just next man has to do the good job. We're a bunch of good teammates in that locker room, and we're always happy for each other. Everybody stepped up at different times and that's why today we are winners."