LAS VEGAS — The 2023 Stanley Cup Final got underway Saturday afternoon, with the Western Conference Champion Vegas Golden Knights playing hosts to the Eastern Conference Champion Florida Panthers
The Knights would defend their home ice tonight, taking Game 1, 5-2 and an early series lead.
The first goal of the Stanley Cup Final was scored by an unlikely name – in an unlikely way.
With the Panthers shorthanded, Eric Staal got some free space to make a jump into the play shorthanded. The 38-year-old caught Knights’ goalie Adin Hill out of position, and beat him off a wrap-around — putting Florida up 1-0, 9:40 into the first.
Vegas’ first power play was terrible with them conceding the shorthanded goal — however, they kept the deficit at one, and bounced back with a successful penalty kill of their own.
Still just a one-goal contest towards the end of the first, the Knights redeemed themselves on the man-advantage and got back into the game.
Chandler Stephenson set up the Knights first goal of the night off a slick backhand feed from behind the net to an unmarked Jonathan Marchessault. Marchessault buried a one-timer in front of Sergei Bobrovsky’s net — tying the game at 1-1.
Both teams went to the break tied, with both of their opening goals coming off a Vegas power play.
After nearly 11 minutes of scoreless action in the second, Vegas took their first lead of the night.
Just a few seconds before Vegas took the lead, Panthers’ forward Anthony Duclair got banged up after blocking a shot from Shea Theodore. Later in the shift, recognizing Duclair was still shaken up, Theodore calmly walked around Duclair at the point before stepping into a shot which cleanly beat Bobrovsky — putting Vegas up 2-1.
The shots were even in the second, but there weren’t an abundance of quality chances for the Cats until really the last minute of the period.
Brandon Montour beat Adin Hill off a rocket from the point, but he couldn’t beat the post. The goalie’s best friend kept Vegas up as the clock trickled down.
With 12 seconds left in the period, many were heading to the concession stands thinking Vegas would have a 2-1 lead to start the third — Florida didn’t let that happen.
After a faceoff win in the offensive zone, Anthony Duclair ripped a shot from the top of the circle past Hill, tying the game at 2-2 just before the intermission.
Six minutes into the third, Florida’s top line of Barkov, Verhaeghe, Duclair and the blueline piled on the pressure in the Vegas zone. With the play still in the Vegas zone, Marc Staal tried to pinch at the line to keep the puck in. The Knights broke out of the zone, catching Florida in transition .
Vegas couldn’t score off the rush, but while controlling possession, the puck found its way to Zach Whitecloud at the point. Whitecloud’s point shot beat Bobrovsky — putting Vegas up again, 3-2.
A story line entering this series was Vegas’ subpar penalty kill. The Knights were great 5-on-5, but their PK was far from that.
Florida had three chances tonight on the power play, and they went 0/3. The Panthers couldn’t capitalize against a Vegas penalty kill which was 54.2% at home during the postseason.
Vegas put their stamp on the game with 6:19 remaining in the period. A clearing attempt from Matthew Tkachuk was batted down by Vegas captain Mark Stone. Stone beat Bobrovsky up high, giving the Knights a 4-2 lead late into the game.
Florida would challenge this goal for a high stick — they would lose the challenge, sending Vegas to the power play.
Vegas would get an empty netter goal later on the power play to finish the night with a 5-2 win.
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