(Las Vegas) Motorists were directed to the parking lot on Thursday morning: People in the line of at least 30 cars were hoping to see the Golden Knights practice, in a scene reminiscent of 2018.

But we are no longer talking about an expansion team that surprises everyone by taking part in the Stanley Cup Finals. This time around, the expectations are much higher.

The confrontation with the Florida Panthers will begin Saturday night in Nevada.

“I would say our team is much better (than five years ago), said Quebecer William Carrier, one of six players from the first edition of the Knights who are still with the club. At the time, everyone was playing to earn a new contract. This time around we played well all season. We have depth. »

The 2017-18 Golden Knights didn’t have Jack Eichel as their No. 1 center, Mark Stone as their captain, and Alex Pietrangelo as their top defenseman.

“Tampa Bay has had tremendous success over the past five or six years, but other than them, I like what we’ve built here,” said Reilly Smith, also a Golden Knights member from the very beginning.

A year after their surprise Finals appearance, Vegas stumbled in the first round against the Sharks. In the following years, the team was defeated in the penultimate round by the Stars and the CH-each time, setbacks that fueled a sense of wanting to do more.

“Opportunities like this don’t happen very often,” said Quebecer Jonathan Marchessault, also present since day one. You have to make the most of it. »

In the 2018 Finals, the Golden Knights won a curtain-raiser against the Capitals at T-Mobile Arena. However, they lost the next four games.

“We were overwhelmed by events,” said Shea Theodore, another player in the group of six. It’s exciting to have come this far, but we’ll have to remember that the final is definitely the hardest series to win. »