Sunrise, FL – The Florida Panthers couldn’t win or lose the Stanley Cup on Saturday in a regular season rematch of last season’s finals with the Las Vegas Golden Knights. However, it still felt like some redemption was had for Florida in notching a 4-2 win against the team that sent them home in the aforementioned finals.
It took a while to get past Vegas’ third goalie, Jiri Patera, despite outshooting the Golden Knights 20-3 in the first period. However, after getting down 1-0 on a goal by Vegas forward, Mark Stone early in the second period, Panthers forward Sam Bennett carried the puck into the offensive zone and fired a wrist shot to get the Cats on the board halfway through the second.
Florida defenseman Gustav Forsling gave the Panthers the lead a few minutes later when he took a slapshot off a faceoff in the offensive zone, but the Knights got one back at the end of the second period when Pavel Dorofeyev buried a rebound off Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky’s pads.
Nevertheless, Bobrovsky shut out Vegas in the third period, while two Florida power play goals clinched the victory. Bobrovsky stopped 23 of 25 shots he faced.
The Panthers had a couple of reasons to come into Saturday’s tilt against Vegas with a chip on their shoulder. Aside from the fact that they lost to Vegas in the Stanley Cup Final just six months ago, they were also facing forward Keegan Kolesar – the man who broke Matthew Tkachuk’s sternum in game three of the finals.
It only took 12 minutes for Panthers forward Ryan Lomberg to tangle up with Kolesar on Saturday. Midway through the first period, Lomberg and Kolesar dropped the gloves after a faceoff.
Lomberg threw one punch, and Kolesar fell to the ground.
“Obviously, credit to him for kind of letting me get redemption for last year,” Lomberg said of Kolesar after the game. “He gave me the chance to kind of even the score and obviously, pretty tough customer to come back.”
There were a few scrums throughout the game, including one as time expired with Tkachuk and Vegas defenseman Alex Pietrangelo in the middle of it.
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Powerplay saves the day
Florida’s subpar power play has been a constant theme all season. The Panthers entered Saturday’s game with the 10th-worst power play in the NHL, scoring at an 18.9 percent clip.
That being said, the difference in Saturday’s 4-2 victory was a pair of power-play goals in the third period. One was a Carter Verhaeghe wrist shot from the top of the left faceoff circle to give the Panthers a 3-2 lead. The second one came a couple of minutes later when Sam Reinhart fired a wrist shot from the slot to give Florida some insurance.
Verhaeghe’s goal was his 100th as a Panther and his 109th overall.
Solid defensive effort
After Florida’s 4-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues on Thursday, Paul Maurice and Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad said they needed to get back to their defensive-first identity.
It seems the team took that message to heart on Saturday. The Panthers allowed three shots on goal in the first period – and one of those was a penalty kill clear by Vegas that happened to go toward goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky’s net.
The Panthers allowed 13 shots on goal in the second period, allowing two goals, before getting back on track in the third by shutting out the Golden Knights and only allowing nine shots on net.
Asked if Maurice sees Bobrovsky becoming an “expert” in games where he stays sharp despite not facing a lot of shots, Maurice said “We’d like to make him one…What he did tonight is a veteran goalie’s wheelhouse,” Maurice said. “The quality of the shooters doesn’t change on the other team. They’re just not getting a lot of (shots) over.”
📸Credit: AP Photo/Lynne Sladky